Laccoliths: Mechanics of Emplacement and Growth

Charles E. Corry

© Geological Society of America - 1988


 

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Geological Society of America Special Paper 220

Introduction

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I came to be interested in laccoliths rather indirectly. While investigating terrestrial heat flow in the Eastern Pacific we came across a large area of low heat flow in the Guatemala Basin. Given sea floor spreading, extremely controversial at the time, the heat flux should be very high in that basin. I suggested the possibility that the basin could be an impact structure. Dr. Clyde Hardy, my undergraduate advisor at Utah State University, then suggested that the Solitario might be an impact structure. However, it turned out to be a large laccolith, and one thing led to another, as it will when one becomes a graduate student.

The gazetteer of about 900 existing laccoliths alone is worth the price of the book.


 

Abstract

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Gilbert (1877) proposed that the level of emplacement of laccoliths is controlled by the density contrast between rising magma and the weighted mean density of the overburden. For felsic laccoliths, his hypothesis is strongly supported by gravity surveys of a number of laccolith groups. Epizonal felsic laccoliths are consistently found to have zero density contrast with the host rocks. Constraining the emplacement level provides a basis for analysis of the growth of laccoliths.

Mechanical analysis suggests that the diverse shapes of laccolithic intrusions observed in the field can be represented by a continuous series of intrusion modes between two distinct end members. The simplest end member is an epizonal intrusion formed by a single sill that acts mechanically as a vertical punch. Punched laccoliths are characterized by flat tops, peripheral faults, and steep or vertical sides.

The other end member results from the intrusion of multiple sills stacked vertically in a fashion suggestive of a Christmas tree. The multiple-level loading results in plastic deformation of the country rock. Christmas-tree laccoliths lack peripheral faults and have a characteristic rounded dome appearance on the surface. The floor of these laccoliths may, or may not, sag. Gilbert's (1877) laccolith falls between these two end members.

The end members of the laccolith growth series are treated as boundary value problems in continuum mechanics. Geometrically and materially nonlinear finite element analysis is used to the solve the boundary value problems. Field observation, a physical model and the theoretical models provide convergent answers to the mechanical analysis of the growth of laccoliths.

As a check on the theoretical models, a gazetteer of the dimensions and locations of approximately 900 laccoliths is included. Of these, approximately 600 are located in the United States. If North America represents a statistically valid sample, then there must be between 5,000 and 10,000 laccoliths in the world.

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Last modified 3/17/16