Dykes or diapirs?

Nick Petford

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Until the last few years, diapirism reigned supreme among granitoid ascent mechanisms. Granitoid masses in a variety of material states, from pure melt through semi-molten crystal mushes to solid rock, were believed to have risen forcefully through the continental crust to their final emplacement levels in a way analogous to salt domes. The structural analogy between granite plutons and salt diapirs, which gained acceptance in the 1930s, has clearly been attractive despite the pessimistic outcomes of thermal models and, at best, ambiguous field evidence. In contrast with traditional diapiric ascent, dyke transport of granitoid magmas has a number of important implications for the emplacement and geochemistry of granites that have yet to be fully explored. Rapid ascent rates of ≍ 10 2 m/s predicted for granite melts in dykes (cf. m/a for diapirs) mean that felsic magmas can be transported through the continental crust in months rather than thousands (or even millions) of years, and that large plutons can in principle be filled in <10 4 a. Granitic melts are likely to rise adiabatically from their source regions, leading to the resorption of any entrained restitic material. Ascending melts in dykes close to their critical minimum widths may have little opportunity to assimilate significant amounts of country rock, and if source extraction is sufficiently rapid, most crustal contamination will be restricted to the site of emplacement. Rates of pluton and batholith inflation will be determined by the amount and rate of melt extraction at source. The construction of large plutons and batholiths piecemeal from a number of magma pulses separated by periods of relative quiescence provides a means of reconciling rapid ascent rates with times for batholith construction based on average rates. Field and seismic evidence that shows batholiths as large, sheet-like structures with flat roofs and floors is consistent with a general model for plutons and batholiths as laccolith-type structures, fed from depth by dykes. The overall geometry of this type of structure helps ameliorate the space problem, which developed as a consequence of the unrealistic volumes of upwelling granite associated with the classical diapir model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-114
Number of pages10
JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2011


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