Theses Doctoral

Re-evaluating the timescale of rift and post-rift magmatism on the Eastern North American Margin via zircon U-Pb geochronology

Kinney, Sean Thomas

The modern plate tectonic paradigm provides a predictive model to understand what mediates dynamic processes at both plate margins and intraplate settings. At some locations on the Earth, the geological record provides evidence of apparent violations of this theoretical framework. In this dissertation, I examine a region on the rifted continental margin of Eastern North America, where at least four distinct episodes of magmatism occurred (in the Late Triassic, Early Jurassic, Early Cretaceous) since the onset of rifting and ultimate breakup of the supercontinent Pangea. It also coincides with a present-day low seismic velocity anomaly in the upper mantle. No other region on the Eastern North American Margin has a record of such anomalous dynamic processes occurring and persisting for more than 200 Myr. In this dissertation, I primarily use zircon U-Pb geochronology to establish the basic chronological framework in which magmatic and magmatic-hydrothermal systems in this region existed and persisted, establishing the temporal parameter space in which it will be possible to test geodynamic mechanisms for their formation.

In Chapter 2, I use ultra-high precision zircon U-Pb geochronology via Chemical Abrasion-Isotope Dilution-Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry (CA-ID-TIMS) to test whether the onset of magmatism in the largest igneous body in this region (the White Mountain Batholith) is linked to the eruption of the vast flood basalts within the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) and whether its apparent duration is indeed > 50 Myr, as previous workers using whole rock K-Ar and mineral Ar-Ar geochronologic methods suggest. My work uncovered a previously unknown episode of rift-related magmatism in the region that precedes the both the CAMP and the emplacement of the White Mountain Batholith by 3 – 5 Myr.

In Chapter 3, I use a combination of high-precision zircon U-Pb geochronology and absolute plate motion models to test whether the Cretaceous igneous province in this region resulted from hot spot magmatism as North America moved over the purported Great Meteor Hotspot. These results cannot falsify the hotspot hypothesis and the new zircon U-Pb ages therefore provide the best available chronological constraints for one of the longest-lived hot spot tracks on the Earth.

In Chapter 4, motivated by the confirmation of age discrepancies between low- and intermediate-temperature chronometers and the zircon U-Pb ages presented in Chapter 2, I use a combination of both CA-ID-TIMS and LA-ICP-MS zircon U-Pb geochronologic techniques to place constraints on the timing and duration of magmatism for the Late Triassic-Early Jurassic province. The results of this chapter demonstrate that the magmatism of the White Mountain Magma Series occurs in discrete pulses through much of the Jurassic. Together with zircon Hf isotopic analyses from select samples, I synthesize these age results and construct a hypothesis testing framework in which it will be possible for future investigators to unravel the geodynamic complexities in this region. I provide recommendations for future work and emphasize the need for unified approaches coupling geochronology, geochemistry, and geophysics, to test the range of possible mechanisms responsible for these episodes of anomalous tectono-magmatic activity.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Olsen, Paul E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 6, 2021