Melt segregation from silicic crystal mushes: a critical appraisal of possible mechanisms and their microstructural record.

29 Jun 2018

One of the outstanding problems in understanding the behavior of intermediate-to-silicic magmatic systems is the mechanism(s) by which large volumes of crystal-poor rhyolite can be extracted from crystal-rich mushy storage zones in the mid-deep crust. The mechanisms commonly invoked are hindered settling, micro-settling, and compaction. The concept of micro-settling involves extraction of grains from a crystal framework during Ostwald ripening and has been shown to be non-viable in the metallic systems for which it was originally proposed. Micro-settling is also likely to be insignificant in silicic mushes, because ripening rates are slow for quartz and plagioclase, contact areas between grains in a crystal mush are likely to be large, and abundant low-angle grain boundaries promote grain coalescence rather than ripening. Published calculations of melt segregation rates by hindered settling (Stokes settling in a crystal-rich system) neglect all but fluid dynamical interactions between particles. Because tabular silicate minerals are likely to form open, mechanically coherent, frameworks at porosities as high as ~ 75%, settling of single crystals is only likely in very melt-rich systems. Gravitationally-driven viscous compaction requires deformation of crystals by either dissolution-reprecipitation or dislocation creep. There is, as yet, no reported microstructural evidence of extensive, syn-magmatic, internally-generated, viscous deformation in fully solidified silicic plutonic rocks. If subsequent directed searches do not reveal clear evidence for internally-generated buoyancy-driven melt segregation processes, it is likely that other factors, such as rejuvenation by magma replenishment, gas filter-pressing, or externally-imposed stress during regional deformation, are required to segregate large volumes of crystal-poor rhyolitic liquids from crustal mushy zones.