Genesis of megaspherulites in El Viejo Rhyolitic Coulee (Pleistocene), Southern Puna, Argentina
Bustos, E and Baez, WA and Bardelli, L and McPhie, J and Sola, A and Chiodi, A and Simon, V and Arnosio, M, Genesis of megaspherulites in El Viejo Rhyolitic Coulee (Pleistocene), Southern Puna, Argentina, Bulletin of Volcanology, 82 Article 43. ISSN 0258-8900 (2020) [Refereed Article]
Copyright 2020 International Association of Volcanology & Chemistry of the Earth's Interior
Crystalline domains in rhyolitic domes and coulees are commonly characterized by spherulites and lithophysae. Spherulites typically range from microscopic to a few centimeters in diameter. Larger spherulites, termed "megaspherulites," are rare but have been reported in the USA and Mexico. The uncommon nature of such structures supports the need for a study to explore the factors and special conditions that allow them to reach such a large size. In the Southern Puna of Argentina, El Viejo Coulee includes megaspherulites up to 4 m in diameter. We present observations from field work, petrography, scanning electron microscopy, bulk geochemistry, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. The megaspherulites occur in obsidian lenses that differ in phenocryst content and composition from the foliated coherent facies that forms the rest of the coulee. The obsidian lacks vesicles and microlites and is unaltered. The megaspherulites comprise growth cones consisting of micropoikilitic texture where quartz encloses potassium feldspar. The growth cones are separated by interconal areas composed of lithophysae. We propose that the megaspherulites were formed above the glass transition temperature (Tg) and are the product of primary crystallization of rhyolitic melt. The exceptionally large size of the megaspherulites implies high diffusion rates which are favored by temperatures above Tg during crystallization. The large size also suggests scarcity of nucleation sites, which is consistent with the megaspherulites being hosted by unaltered microlite- and vesicle-free glass. The position of the obsidian lens at the base of the coulee may have played a critical role in maintaining the temperature above the Tg long enough to allow the crystallization of the megaspherulites. These conditions also favored crystallization in the most advanced stage where micropoikilitic texture replaced the fans of crystal fibers typical of spherulites. Crystallization of anhydrous quartz and feldspar in the growth cones led to the concentration of volatiles in the melt in the interconal areas, resulting in volatile exsolution and formation of vesicles that became nucleation sites for lithophysae. The study advances our understanding of some of the special processes that are involved in the cooling and solidification of rhyolitic magmas. Fundamentally, we find that the position of the obsidian at the base of the coulee was critically important because this position favored maintenance of the temperature above the Tg which, in turn, favored high diffusion rates. Also, the scarcity of nucleation sites in the obsidian melt allowed only a small number of spherulites to nucleate; those that nucleated therefore grew very large. The meter-scale megaspherulites may have taken ~ 55 years to create.