Magnetic fabrics reveal three-dimensional flow processes within elongate magma fingers at the margin of the Shonkin Sag laccolith (MT, USA)

Jonas Köpping*, Alexander R. Cruden, Craig Magee, William McCarthy, John Geissman, Daniel Holm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Unravelling magma flow in ancient sheet intrusions is critical to understanding how magma pathways develop and feed volcanic eruptions. Analyzing the shape preferred orientation of minerals in intrusive rocks can provide information on magma flow, because crystals may align parallel to the primary flow direction. Anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility (AMS) is an established method to quantify such shape preferred orientations in igneous sheet intrusions with weak or cryptic fabrics. However, use of AMS data to characterize how magma flows within the individual building blocks of sheet intrusions (i.e., magma fingers and segments), hereafter referred to as elements, has received much less attention. Here we use a high spatial resolution sampling strategy to quantify the AMS fabric of the Eocene Shonkin Sag laccolith (Montana, USA) and associated elongate magma fingers. Our results suggest that magnetic fabrics across the main laccolith reflect sub-horizontal magma flow, and inferred flow directions are consistent with an underlying NE-SW striking feeder dyke. Within the magma fingers, we interpret systematic changes in magnetic fabric shape and orientation to reflect the interaction between competing forces occurring during finger-parallel magma flow (i.e., simple shear) and horizontal and vertical inflation (i.e., pure shear flattening). For example, we highlight how local crossflow of magma between coalesced fingers increases the complexity of magma flow kinematics and related fabrics. Despite these complexities, the AMS data in coalesced magma fingers maintain their internal flow- and inflation-related fabrics, which suggests that magma flow within the fingers remains channelized after coalescence. Given that many sheet intrusions consist of amalgamated elements, our findings highlight the need to carefully consider element distribution and sample locations when interpreting magma flow based on AMS measurements.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104829
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Structural Geology
Early online date11 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


  • Magma
  • Sheet intrusion
  • Magma finger
  • Shonkin Sag laccolith
  • AMS
  • Flow


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