High Precision 40Ar/39Ar Geochronology of Servilleta Basalts of the Rio Grande Gorge, New Mexico
Friday, 19 December 2014
New geologic mapping and high-precision 40Ar/39Ar geochronology within the Taos Plateau in northern New Mexico indicate a period of vigorous volcanic activity between ~5.5 and ~1 Ma. Over 50 visible volcanic centers formed during this time together with an unresolved number of vents, fissures, and volcanic centers buried by intercalated volcanic rock and sedimentary basin fill. Defining the volcanic stratigraphy is essential for models of regional groundwater flow and for understanding the geologic evolution of the Pliocene to Recent Rio Grande rift. A spectacular stratigraphic section of volcanic rock related to Rio Grande rifting is visible from the High Bridge, just a few miles outside of Taos, NM, where a 240 m canyon is incised through the basal, middle, and upper Servilleta basalt flow packages (Dungan et al., 1984). Fresh basalt from a vertical transect of the canyon near the High Bridge were analyzed by 40Ar/39Ar methods on ~3 mm3 rock fragments using an ARGUS VI mass spectrometer and the resulting 40Ar/39Ar ages define a precise emplacement chronology of the entire stratigraphic section. The basal flow package records ages of 4.78 ± 0.03 Ma (relative to FCT sanidine = 28.204 Ma; all errors 2 sigma) at river level, 4.77 ± 0.03 Ma at mid flow, and 4.50 ± 0.04 Ma at the top of the flow. The middle flow package records ages of 4.11 ± 0.03 Ma at the base of the flow, 4.08 ± 0.04 Ma mid flow, and 4.02 ± 0.06 Ma at the top of the flow. The upper basalt package records ages of 3.69 ± 0.06 Ma at the base of the flow and 3.59 ± 0.08 Ma at the top of the flow. These data support rapid effusion of voluminous lava flows on time scales of 100-200 ka. Two reddish paleosols separating the Servilleta packages each developed during a 400 ka period of volcanic quiescence. First order calculations using exposed lava thicknesses in the gorge and areal exposures suggest each flow package represents emplacement of ~200 km3 of basalt. Because no exposed vent of appropriate age has been identified that could produce such basalt volumes, the Servilleta basalts probably erputed from buried vents and/or fissures, possibly oriented along the northwest trending fault systems defining the Rio Grande rift graben.