Distribution of “Compound” and “Simple” Flows in the Deccan Traps (India)
Monday, 15 December 2014
The Deccan Traps are a dominantly mafic large igneous province (LIP) that, prior to erosion, covered ~1 million km2 of west-central India with lava flows. The type sections of the Western Ghats escarpment, where the Deccan lava pile reaches a maximum reconstructed stratigraphic thickness of ~3400 m, are subdivided into eleven formations defined on chemo-stratigraphic grounds. Earlier work recognized that emplacement of Deccan basalt flows primarily occurs following two main modes: as a stack of meter-sized pāhoehoe toes and lobes, termed “compound” flows; or as inflated sheet lobes tens to hundreds of meters in width and meters to tens of meters in height, previously termed “simple” flows. Initially, the distribution of small lobes and sheet lobes in the Deccan was thought to be controlled by distance from source, but later work suggested the distribution to be mainly controlled along stratigraphic, formational boundaries, with six of the lower formations being composed exclusively of compound flows, and the upper 4-5 formations being wholly built of sheet lobes. This simple stratigraphic subdivision of lava flow morphologies has also been documented in the volcanic architecture of other LIPs, e.g., the Etendeka, the Ethiopian Traps, and in the Faeroe Islands (North Atlantic LIP). Upon examination of eight sections carefully logged along the Western Ghats, this traditional view must be challenged. Where the lower Deccan formations crop out, we found that as much as 65% of the exposed thickness (below the Khandala Formation) is made up of sheet lobes, from 40% in the Bhimashankar Formation to 75% in the Thakurvadi Formation. Near the bottom of the sequence, 25% of the Neral Formation is composed of sheet lobes ≥15 m in thickness. This distribution in lava flow morphology does not seem to be noticeably affected by the inferred distance to the source (based on the location of similar-composition dikes for each formation). Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the development of compound flows and inflated sheet lobes, involving one or more of the following factors: underlying slope, varying effusion rate, and source geometry. Analogue experiments are currently under way to test the relative influence of each of these factors in the development of different lava flow morphologies in LIPs.