Tholeiitic magma series

The tholeiitic magma series, named after the German municipality of Tholey, is one of two main magma series in igneous rocks, the other being the calc-alkaline series. A magma series is a chemically distinct range of magma compositions that describes the evolution of a mafic magma into a more evolved, silica rich end member. The International Union of Geological Sciences recommends that tholeiitic basalt be used in preference to the term "tholeiite" (Le Maitre and others, 2002).

Geochemical characterization

AFM diagram -
This is an AFM diagram, a ternary diagram showing the relative proportions of the oxides of Na2O + K2O (A), FeO + Fe2O3 (F), and MgO (M). The arrows show the path of the magmas in the tholeiitic and the calc-alkaline magma series.

Rocks in the tholeiitic magma series are classified as subalkaline (they contain less sodium than some other basalts) and are distinguished from rocks in the calc-alkaline magma series by the redox state of the magma they crystallized from (tholeiitic magmas are reduced; calc-alkaline magmas are oxidized [1]). When the parent magmas of basalts crystallize, they preferentially crystallize the more magnesium-rich and iron-poor forms of the silicate minerals olivine and pyroxene, causing the iron content of tholeiitic magmas to increase as the melt is depleted of iron-poor crystals. However, a calc-alkaline magma is oxidized enough to precipitate significant amounts of the iron oxide magnetite, causing the iron content of the magma to remain more steady as it cools than with a tholeiitic magma.

The difference between these two magma series can be seen on an AFM diagram, a ternary diagram showing the relative proportions of the oxides Na2O + K2O (A), FeO + Fe2O3 (F), and MgO (M). As magmas cool, they precipitate out significantly more iron and magnesium than alkali, causing the magmas to move towards the alkali corner as they cool. In the tholeiitic magma, magnesium-rich crystals are produced preferentially, the magnesium content of the magma plummets, causing the magma to move away from the magnesium corner until it runs low on magnesium and simply moves towards the alkali corner as it loses iron and any remaining magnesium. With the calc-alkaline series, however, the precipitation of magnetite causes the iron-magnesium ratio to remain relatively constant, so the magma moves in a straight line towards the alkali corner on the AFM diagram.


Basalto tholeitico nicol paralleli
Photomicrograph of thin section of tholeiitic basalt (in plane polarized light)
Basalto tholeitico nicol incrociati
Photomicrograph of thin section of tholeiitic basalt (in cross polarized light)

Like all basalt, the rock type is dominated by olivine, clinopyroxene and plagioclase, with minor iron-titanium oxides.[2] Orthopyroxene or pigeonite may also be present in tholeiitic basalt, and olivine, if present, may be rimmed by either of these calcium-poor pyroxenes. Tridymite or quartz may be present in the fine-grained groundmass of tholeiitic basalt, and feldspathoids are absent. Tholeiitic rocks may have a fine, glassy groundmass, as may other types of basalt.

Geologic context

Tholeiitic rocks are the most common igneous rocks on Earth, produced by submarine volcanism at mid-ocean ridges and make up much of the ocean crust. Tholeiitic basaltic magmas are initially generated as partial melts of peridotite (olivine and pyroxene) produced by decompression melting of the Earth's mantle. Tholeiitic basalts constituting the oceanic crust are termed MORBs: mid-ocean-ridge basalts. Throughout the process of igneous differentiation, the oceanic crust acts to reduce the magma, producing the tholeiitic trend.[1] In contrast, alkali basalts are not typical of ocean ridges, but are erupted on some oceanic islands and on continents, as also is tholeiitic basalt.[2] Because the Moon is extremely reduced, all of its basalts are tholeiitic.

See also



  1. ^ a b Berndt, J., Koepke, J., and Holtz, F. (2004). "An experimental investigation of the influence of water and oxygen fugacity on differentiation of MORB at 200 MPa". Journal of Petrology. 46 (1): 135–167. Bibcode:2004JPet...46..135B. doi:10.1093/petrology/egh066.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b "Polarized Light Microscopy Digital Image Gallery: Tholeiitic Basalt" (Accessed 4/1/06)


  • R. W. Le Maitre (editor), A. Streckeisen, B. Zanettin, M. J. Le Bas, B. Bonin, P. Bateman, G. Bellieni, A. Dudek, S. Efremova, J. Keller, J. Lamere, P. A. Sabine, R. Schmid, H. Sorensen, and A. R. Woolley, Igneous Rocks: A Classification and Glossary of Terms, Recommendations of the International Union of Geological Sciences, Subcommission of the Systematics of Igneous Rocks. Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-66215-X.
  • American Geological Institute. Dictionary of Geological Terms. New York: Dolphin Books, 1962.
Calc-alkaline magma series

The calc-alkaline magma series is one of two main subdivisions of the subalkaline magma series, the other subalkaline magma series being the tholeiitic. A magma series is a series of compositions that describes the evolution of a mafic magma, which is high in magnesium and iron and produces basalt or gabbro, as it fractionally crystallizes to become a felsic magma, which is low in magnesium and iron and produces rhyolite or granite. Calc-alkaline rocks are rich in alkaline earths (magnesia and calcium oxide) and alkali metals and make up a major part of the crust of the continents.

The diverse rock types in the calc-alkaline series include volcanic types such as basalt, andesite, dacite, rhyolite, and also their coarser-grained intrusive equivalents (gabbro, diorite, granodiorite, and granite). They do not include silica-undersaturated, alkalic, or peralkaline rocks.

Geology of American Samoa

The geology of American Samoa is part of the broader geology of the Samoan island chain.

Geology of Curaçao

The island of Curaçao began to form within the past 145 million years, beginning in the Cretaceous, as part of the Lesser Antilles island arc. Because the island was submerged for large parts of its history, reef environments formed atop thick layers of mafic volcanic rock, producing carbonate sedimentary rocks.

Geology of Ghana

The geology of Ghana is primarily very ancient crystalline basement rock, volcanic belts and sedimentary basins, affected by periods of igneous activity and two major orogeny mountain building events. Aside from modern sediments and some rocks formed within the past 541 million years of the Phanerozoic Eon, along the coast, many of the rocks in Ghana formed close to one billion years ago or older leading to five different types of gold deposit formation, which gave the region its former name Gold Coast.

Geology of Ivory Coast

The geology of Ivory Coast is almost entirely extremely ancient metamorphic and igneous crystalline basement rock between 2.1 and more than 3.5 billion years old, comprising part of the stable continental crust of the West African Craton. Near the surface, these ancient rocks have weathered into sediments and soils 20 to 45 meters thick on average, which holds much of Ivory Coast's groundwater. More recent sedimentary rocks are found along the coast. The country has extensive mineral resources such as gold, diamonds, nickel and bauxite as well as offshore oil and gas.

Geology of Lesotho

The geology of Lesotho is built on ancient crystalline basement rock up to 3.6 billion years old, belonging to the Kaapvaal Craton, a section of stable primordial crust. Most of the rocks in the country are sedimentary or volcanic units, belonging to the Karoo Supergroup. The country is notable for large fossil deposits and intense erosion due to high rainfall and a rare case of southern African glaciation during the last ice age. Lesotho has extensive diamonds and other natural resources and has the highest concentration of kimberlite pipes anywhere in the world.

Geology of Morocco

The geology of Morocco formed beginning up to two billion years ago, in the Paleoproterozoic and potentially even earlier. It was affected by the Pan-African orogeny, although the later Hercynian orogeny produced fewer changes and left the Maseta Domain, a large area of remnant Paleozoic massifs. During the Paleozoic, extensive sedimentary deposits preserved marine fossils. Throughout the Mesozoic, the rifting apart of Pangaea to form the Atlantic Ocean created basins and fault blocks, which were blanketed in terrestrial and marine sediments—particularly as a major marine transgression flooded much of the region. In the Cenozoic, a microcontinent covered in sedimentary rocks from the Triassic and Cretaceous collided with northern Morocco, forming the Rif region. Morocco has extensive phosphate and salt reserves, as well as resources such as lead, zinc, copper and silver.

Geology of Nigeria

The geology of Nigeria formed beginning in the Archean and Proterozoic eons of the Precambrian. The country forms the Nigerian Province and more than half of its surface is igneous and metamorphic crystalline basement rock from the Precambrian. Between 2.9 billion and 500 million years ago, Nigeria was affected by three major orogeny mountain-building events and related igneous intrusions. Following the Pan-African orogeny, in the Cambrian at the time that multi-cellular life proliferated, Nigeria began to experience regional sedimentation and witnessed new igneous intrusions. By the Cretaceous period of the late Mesozoic, massive sedimentation was underway in different basins, due to a large marine transgression. By the Eocene, in the Cenozoic, the region returned to terrestrial conditions.

Nigeria has tremendous oil and natural gas resources housed in its thick sedimentary basins, as well as reserves of gold, lead, zinc, tantalite, columbite, coal and tin.

Geology of Senegal

The geology of Senegal formed beginning more than two billion years ago. The Archean greenschist Birimian rocks common throughout West Africa are the oldest in the country, intruded by Proterozoic granites. Basins formed in the interior during the Paleozoic and filled with sedimentary rocks, including tillite from a glaciation. With the rifting apart of the supercontinent Pangaea in the Mesozoic, the large Senegal Basin filled with thick sequences of marine and terrestrial sediments. Sea levels declined in the Eocene forming large phosphate deposits. Senegal is blanketed in thick layers of terrestrial sediments formed in the Quaternary. The country has extensive natural resources, including gold, diamonds, and iron.

Geology of São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe both formed within the past 30 million years due to volcanic activity in deep water along the Cameroon line. Long-running interactions with seawater and different eruption periods have generated a wide variety of different igneous and volcanic rocks on the islands with complex mineral assemblages.

Igneous rock

Igneous rock (derived from the Latin word ignis meaning fire), or magmatic rock, is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. The magma can be derived from partial melts of existing rocks in either a planet's mantle or crust. Typically, the melting is caused by one or more of three processes: an increase in temperature, a decrease in pressure, or a change in composition. Solidification into rock occurs either below the surface as intrusive rocks or on the surface as extrusive rocks. Igneous rock may form with crystallization to form granular, crystalline rocks, or without crystallization to form natural glasses. Igneous rocks occur in a wide range of geological settings: shields, platforms, orogens, basins, large igneous provinces, extended crust and oceanic crust.

Island arc

Island arcs are long chains of active volcanoes with intense seismic activity found along convergent tectonic plate boundaries (such as the Ring of Fire). Most island arcs originate on oceanic crust and have resulted from the descent of the lithosphere into the mantle along the subduction zone. They are the principal way by which continental growth is achieved.

Island arcs can either be active or inactive based on their seismicity and presence of volcanoes. Active arcs are ridges of recent volcanoes with an associated deep seismic zone. They also possess a distinct curved form, a chain of active or recently extinct volcanoes, a deep-sea trench, and a large negative Bouguer anomaly on the convex side of the volcanic arc. The small positive gravity anomaly associated with volcanic arcs has been interpreted by many authors as due to the presence of dense volcanic rocks beneath the arc. While inactive arcs are a chain of islands which contains older volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks.The curved shape of many volcanic chains and the angle of the descending lithosphere are related. If the oceanic part of the plate is represented by the ocean floor on the convex side of the arc, and if the zone of flexing occurs beneath the submarine trench, then the deflected part of the plate coincides approximately with the Benioff zone beneath most arcs.

Rocas Verdes ophiolites

The Rocas Verdes ophiolites (Spanish: Complejo Ofiolítico de Rocas Verdes) are a series of greenschists and other rocks constituting ophiolites in Magallanes Region, southernmost Chile. The Rocas Verdes ophiolites represent the continental-oceanic crust that existed in a back-arc basin in the Mesozoic Era as result of extensional tectonics. This back-arc basin then evolved into the Magallanes foreland basin in the Cenozoic Era within the context of the wider Andean orogeny.The main Rocas Verdes ophiolites are the Sarmiento and Tortuga complexes. Volcanic rocks in both complexes belong to the tholeiitic magma series. While neither represent true oceanic crust Tortugas complex is more alike top these compositions.

Uruguayan dyke swarms

The Uruguayan dyke swarms consist of three groups of dykes of Precambrian age that intrude Río de la Plata Craton and Brasiliano Cycle continental crust in Uruguay. The dykes – including the Florida dyke swarm, the Nico Perez dyke swarm, and the Treinta y Tres dyke swarm – are of mafic to intermediate composition and each group lies in a separate tectono-stratigraphic terrane. The rocks of the Florida dyke swarm have been quarried since the 1960s and are used in the construction industry as black dimension stone of very high quality, being marketed as "black granite".

Types of basalts
Basalts by tectonic setting
Basalts by form and flow
Basalts by chemistry
Important minerals


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