Petrogenesis and provenance of distal volcanic tuffs from the Permian–Triassic Karoo Basin, South Africa: A window into a dissected magmatic province


We present zircon rare earth element (REE) compositions integrated with U-Pb ages of zircon and whole-rock geochemistry from 29 volcanic tuffs preserved in the Karoo Supergroup, South Africa, to investigate the history of magmatism in southern Gondwana. Whole-rock compositions suggest a subduction-driven magmatic arc source for early (before 270 Ma) to middle Permian (270-260 Ma) Karoo tuffs. After ca. 265 Ma, the magmatic source of the volcanic deposits transitioned toward intraplate shallow-sourced magmatism. Zircon U-Pb ages and REE chemistry suggest that early to middle Permian magmas were oxidizing, U- and heavy (H) REE-enriched, melts; middle Permian to Triassic zircons record HREE-depleted, more reduced magmatism. Middle Permian to Triassic tuffs contain increasingly large volumes of zircon cargo derived from assimilated crustal material; therefore magmas may have been zircon undersaturated, resulting in less zircon growth and increased inheritance in late Permian to Triassic Gondwanan volcanics. Zircon U-Pb ages and zircon REE chemistry suggest a shift from arc magmatism in the early Permian to extensional magmatism by the late Permian, which may be associated with development of a backarc magmatic system adjacent to western Antarctica that predates known extensional volcanism elsewhere in Gondwana. Opening of the Southern Ocean in the Jurassic-Cretaceous paralleled this extensional feature, which may be related to reactivation of this Permian-Triassic backarc. This study demonstrates the potential of zircon U-Pb age and REE compositions from volcanic tuffs preserved in sedimentary strata to provide a more complete record of magmatism, when the magmatic province has been largely lost to active tectonism.

Document Type




Rights Information

© 2016 The Geological Society of America

Publication Date


Journal Title