Origin of infracrustal (I-type) granite magmas

B. W. Chappell, W. E. Stephens

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I-type granites are produced by partial melting of older igneous rocks that are metaluminous and hence have not undergone any significant amount of chemical weathering. In the Lachlan Fold Belt of southeastern Australia and the Caledonian Fold Belt of Britain and Ireland there was a major magmatic event close to 400 Ma ago involving a massive introduction of heat into the crust. In both areas, that Caledonian-age event produced large volumes of I-type granite and related volcanic rocks. Granites of these two areas are not identical in character but they do show many similarities and are markedly different from many of the granites found in Mesozoic and younger fold belts. These younger, dominantly tonalitic, granites have compositions similar to those of the more felsic volcanic rocks forming at the present time above subduction zones. The Palaeozoic granites show little evidence of such a direct relationship to subduction. Within both the Caledonian and Lachlan belts there are some granites with a composition close to the younger tonalites. A particularly interesting case is that of the Tuross Head Tonalite of the Lachlan Fold Belt, which can be shown to have formed from slightly older source rocks by a process that we refer to as remagmatisation which has caused no significant change in composition. Since remagmatisation has reproduced the former source composition in the younger rocks, the wrong inference would result from the use of that composition to deduce the tectonic conditions at the time of formation of the tonalite. Granites, particularly the more mafic ones, will generally have compositions reflecting the compositions of their source rocks, and attempts to use granite compositions to reconstruct the tectonic environment at the time of formation of the granite may be looking instead at an older event. This is probably also the case for some andesites formed at continental margins. Several arguments can be presented in favour of a general model for the production of I-type granite sources by underplating the crust, so that the source rocks are infracrustal. Such sources may contain a component of subducted sediments with the consequence that some of the compositional characteristics of sedimentary rocks may be present in I-type source rocks and in the granites derived from them. The small bodies of mafic granite and gabbro associated with island arc volcanism have an origin that can be related to the partial melting of subducted oceanic crust or of mantle material overlying such slabs and can be referred to as M-type. These rocks have compositions indistinguishable from those of the related volcanic rocks, except for a small component of cumulative material. The tonalitic I-type granites characteristic of the Cordillera are probably derived from such M-type rocks of basaltic to andesitic composition, which had been underplated beneath the crust. Some of the more mafic tonalites of the Caledonian-age fold belts may also have had a similar origin. More commonly, however, the plutonic rocks of the older belts are granodioritic and these probably represent the products of partial melting of older tonalitic I-type source rocks in the deep crust, these having compositions and origins analogous to the tonalites of the Cordillera. In this way, multiple episodes of partial melting, accompanied by fractionation of the magmas, can produce quite felsic rocks from original source rocks in the mantle or mantle wedge. These are essential processes in the evolution of the crust, since the first stages in this process produce new crust and the later magmatic events redistribute this material vertically without the addition of significant amounts of new crust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-86
Number of pages16
JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1988


  • Caledonian
  • crustal melting
  • Lachlan
  • remagmatisation
  • source rocks
  • underplating


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