Ignimbrites of the Cerro Galan caldera, NW Argentina

The 35 × 20 km Cerro Galán resurgent caldera is the largest post-Miocene caldera so far identified in the Andes. The Cerro Galán complex developed on a late pre-Cambrian to late Palaeozoic basement of gneisses, amphibolites, mica schists and deformed phyllites and quartzites. The basement was uplifted in the early Miocene along large north-south reverse faults, producing a horst-and-graben topography. Volcanism began in the area prior to 15 Ma with the formation of several andesite to dacite composite volcanoes. The Cerro Galán complex developed along two prominent north-south regional faults about 20 km apart. Dacitic to rhyodacitic magma ascended along these faults and caused at least nine ignimbrite eruptions in the period 7-4 Ma (K-Ar determinations). These ignimbrites are named the Toconquis Ignimbrite Formation. They are characterised by the presence of basal plinian deposits, many individual flow units and proximal co-ignimbrite lag breccias. The ignimbrites also have moderate to high macroscopic pumice and lithic contents and moderate to low crystal contents. Compositionally banded pumice occurs near the top of some units. Many of the Toconquis eruptions occurred from vents along a north-south line on the western rim of the young caldera. However, two of the ignimbrites erupted from vents on the eastern margin. Lava extrusions occurred contemporaneously along these north-south lines. The total D.R.E. volume of Toconquis ignimbrite exceeds 500 km3. Following a 2-Ma dormant period a single major eruption of rhyodacitic magma formed the 1000-km3 Cerro Galán ignimbrite and the caldera. The ignimbrite (age 2.1 Ma on Rb-Sr determination) forms a 30–200-m-thick outflow sheet extending up to 100 km in all directions from the caldera rim. At least 1.4 km of welded intracaldera ignimbrite also accumulated. The ignimbrite is a pumice-poor, crystal-rich deposit which contains few lithic clasts. No basal plinian deposit has been identified and proximal lag breccias are absent. The composition of pumice clasts is a very uniform rhyodacite which has a higher SiO2 content but a lower K2O content than the Toconquis ignimbrites. Preliminary data indicate no evidence for compositional zonation in the magma chamber. The eruption is considered to have been caused by the catastrophic foundering of a cauldron block into the magma chamber. Post-caldera extrusions occurred shortly after eruption along both the northern extension of the eastern boundary fault and the western caldera margin. Resurgence also occurred, doming up the intracaldera ignimbrite and sedimentary fill to form the central mountain range. Resurgent doming was centred along the eastern fault and resulted in radial tilting of the ignimbrite and overlying lake sediments.


Publication status:
Authors: Sparks, R.S.J., Francis, P.W., Hamer, R.D., Pankhurst, R.J., O'Callaghan, L.O., Thorpe, R.S., Page, R.

1 January, 1985
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research / 24
Link to published article: