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Basic paleomagnetism: some old and new lessons from Icelandic lava flows

Basic paleomagnetism: some old and new lessons from Icelandic lava flows. Leo Kristjansson University of Iceland. (Slightly revised version of an invited talk given at the 2008 Joint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 27-30 May.

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Basic paleomagnetism: some old and new lessons from Icelandic lava flows

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  1. Basic paleomagnetism: some old and new lessons from Icelandic lava flows Leo Kristjansson University of Iceland (Slightly revised version of an invited talk given at the 2008 Joint Assembly of the American Geophysical Union, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 27-30 May. A paper discussing some aspects mentioned here is in press in Jökull v. 58)

  2. Some advantages of Iceland (65°N, 103,000 sq.km.) for paleomagnetic fieldwork • Basaltic volcanism was essentially continuous from 15 Ma ago to the present, generating millions of lava flows • Tens of successive lava flows are accessible in very many mountainside profiles, with geomagnetic reversals occurring every 15-20 flows on average • In many instances, several such profiles can be combined into a composite section of hundreds of flows • Areas with minimal secondary hydrothermal (< 100°C) and tectonic (< 6-8° tilt) disturbances may be chosen • Dikes and other intrusions can be easily avoided • Continued...

  3. NW-Iceland: eroded plateau 600 m high. Age 12-13 Ma, tectonic tilt 2 - 4°

  4. The lavas are generally separated by scoria zones and thin sedimentary beds; thicker sediments appear occasionally

  5. 2.9 km section studied by Kristjansson et al. (2003), ages c. 9 to 5 Ma --------------- One more advantage of Iceland: cooling water is usually not far away

  6. Advantages, continued: • Good road connections, communications, services, etc. • No danger from landowners, armed insurgents, heat, grizzlies, snakes, poisonous plants, insects, microbes,... • Little problems with vegetation cover, chemical weathering, lightning-strike remagnetization, etc. • No complications from continental drift, area rotations about the vertical, polar wandering, anisotropy, inclination errors, variable lock-in depth, folding,.... • Viscous remanence is often present but easily removed; rotational remanence is very seldom noted • The primary remanence direction is usually very stable and internally consistent • In short : Iceland is a good place for studying some basic aspects of paleomagnetism

  7. In paleomagnetic work at the University of Iceland and by foreign expeditions, emphasis has been on using remanence directions to help in stratigraphic mapping projects. Collecting four samples and AF-demagnetizing at 4-5 peak fields, is more than adequate for that purpose: average a95-values of 5° or so are typical, even in the oldest formations. Accuracy will in many cases deteriorate with AF treatment beyond 30 mT. Typical Zijderveld plot (Beske- Diehl & Li, 1993)

  8. It has been verified that lavas exposed across several km yield consistent results. In the lava near the top here, samples were collected at 8 sites spread over 1.5 km. The between - site a.s.d. of the remanence directions was a little over 2°.

  9. A few disadvantages of Icelandic lava series: • Stratigraphy of volcanics from the last 2 Ma tends to be jumbled due to various effects of glaciation and erosion • The time interval between successive lavas (av. thickness 10 m, extent ~ few km) averages 5-10 ka; I’ve estimated that a reversal takes on average around 4 ka • Some locations are too steep for sampling • The volcanism was quite sporadic in time and space, with hiatuses occurring • Stratigraphic mapping is still only fragmentary • Short field season: just July & August in many areas • The number of available radiometric dates is insufficient • The lavas are not very suitable for paleointensity; for instance, their susceptibility often changes irreversibly on laboratory heating to even 150°C or less

  10. Total sampling: of order 8000 lavas. Data from some not published in detail. Circles: 1960’s (n = 2); triangles: 1972-78 (n = 3); squares: since 1979 (n = 4) Each sign stands for 60-100 lava flows. Crosses: smaller isolated surveys.

  11. Some instances in the past where studies on Icelandic lavas contributed to progress in paleomagnetic methods and concepts 1950’s -First application of polarity reversals in local stratigraphy -First use of Fisher’s directional statistics -Development of the idea that the mean field is a geocentric axial dipole one -Successful application of AF demagnetization in removal of viscous remanence -First observation of weak “intermediate” directions at polarity-zone boundaries 1960’s -One of the first records of short geomagnetic reversal “events” -Long composite profile in East Iceland demonstrated the occurrence of at least 60 reversals in the period from c. 13 to 2 Ma ago 1970’s and early 1980’s -K-Ar dating of some polarity zone boundaries and of two events in the Gilbert -Demonstration that N and R fields are similar in terms of intensities, a.s.d., etc. -Further indications that many short reversal events are missing from time scales

  12. We will now look at a collection of over 5000 Icelandic lava flows with 3 or 4 samples per flow, and a mean a95-value of around 7° Example: Do 20 directions give an adequate representation of the paleo-field ? Let us arbitrarily take about 20 successive lavas from this 114-lava profile in W- Iceland, of c. 9 Ma age (Kristjansson and Johannesson, 1999)

  13. 45°N Questions: Should we reject the pole in SE-Africa on the grounds that it is a “transitional” one and thus possibly a type different from the others ? Should we then also reject the pole in the Great Lakes ? Should we try to generate a few hundred more poles by bootstrapping ?

  14. This is the total collection from the study by Kristjansson and Johannesson (1999) in W-Iceland, spanning approximately 7 to 11 Ma old lavas. Among new questions coming up: Is there a Pacific “pole hole” ?

  15. Here we have a new compilation of most of the available poles from Iceland, of about 1 to 15 Ma age. The Pacific hole has disappeared.

  16. Some simple conclusions from the above • 20 spot readings seem much too few for obtaining reasonably reliable estimates of mean poles and scatter • Even with 300-odd lavas, the computed a95 is over 3°. This probably increases to 4-5° when one allows for serial correlation and non-Fisherian distribution • The distribution of VGPs is essentially continuous in latitude, which among other things indicates that the application of a 40°- or 45°- latitude cutoff before averaging may not be very appropriate. Let us now look at the distribution of low- and mid-latitude VGPs in longitude....

  17. The 940 VGPs seem to be quite evenly spread The main bump in the histogram lies to the west of one “preferred” longitude interval suggested originally in 1991. A bump does not appear at that longitude interval in these lava data for VGP latitudes > 50°. Let us also look at the latitude distribution of VGPs...

  18. We note that there is a fairly flat “tail” from 20-30° towards the Equator, which cannot be accounted for by Fisherian statistics. The suggestion by C.G.A. Harrison in 1980 that this tail is part of a population of “random poles” forming about 10% of the whole data set, is still realistic.

  19. If you measure samples from a large enough number of lava flows, you have a chance of obtaining for instance the relative mean intensity of the field as function of VGP latitude, as other factors cancel out.This has been attempted with data from Icelandic lavas, first by P. Dagley and R.L. Wilson in 1971-72 (1300 flows x 2 cores). Assuming a linear relationship between geomagnetic dipole moment and VGP latitude, a factor of around 4-5 between the magnitudes of mean axial and mean equatorial VDMs may be deduced. VGP co-latitude

  20. I did similar compilations in 1982 and again in 1995, using the then available data sets of lavas with 3 or 4 samples from each, after 10 mT demagnetization to remove VRM.I confirmed the estimate that mean VDMs in axial and equatorial positions of the VGP differed by a factor of about 4-5, assuming a linear decrease of VDM with VGP latitude.However, I noted that that the VDM vs. latitude relationship showed signs of levelling off at both ends.Let us now look at my current compilation of over 5000 flows with 3-4 samples from each.The central set of data is a geometric average of lava intensities, each having been transformed to its VGP.

  21. Bars: typical s.e. values The flat right-hand portion of my suggested relationship between VDM and latitude lies between 25° and the Equator, cf. the flat portion of the VGP frequency distribution. The ratio between near-axial and near-equatorial virtual dipole moments is then c. 2.5; remember however, that some high-latitude VGPs belong to the random-pole set.

  22. Returning to the plot by Dagley and Wilson (1972), let us estimate roughly their mean VDMs for near-axial and near-equatorial VGP’s A ratio of 2.5 between these seems to be not far off Hopefully, results of this sort will aid people in modelling the paleo- magnetic field and its sources, along with “absolute” paleointensity data

  23. Let us now look at another property, viz. the angular (or circular) standard deviation of virtual-pole positions fromIcelandic lavas, and its possible change since 15 Ma ago.Paleomagnetists accept the possibility that e.g. polarity-reversal rates and the mean field intensity may vary on time scales of tens of Ma, but little evidence has been gathered so far on possible long-term variations in the a.s.d.I presented evidence for these with H. Johannesson in 1989. We used data from collections with n = 2 (U. of Liverpool), n = 3 (U. of Rhode Island) and n = 4 (mostly U. of Iceland),....

  24. Data from surveys in 10 different areas of Iceland, approx. 4000 lavas (1989) Broken lines: n = 2 samples/flow; thin lines: n = 3; thicker lines: n = 4

  25. Let us now plot angular standard deviations of VGPs, after adding many subsequent collections and grouping the lavas by age. Each point is based on 510 to 950 lavas with n = 3 or 4, total 5030. In the top graph, rejection criteria have been tightened from a95 < 21° in 1989 to a95 < 14°.The error bar indicates 95% confidence limits for 500 lavas (Cox 1971)

  26. The elevated a.s.d.-values in the older rocks may be partly due to a high frequency, long duration, and/or large amplitude of excursions, cf. example 34-lava profile of c.13 Ma age, NW-Iceland

  27. In some cases the geomagnetic pole may even have been moving around erratically, e.g. in c. 12 Ma old lavas in NW-Icelanddescribed by Kristjansson & Johannesson (1996)

  28. Some materials, or aspects related to paleomagnetism, which have not been studied much in Iceland so far: • Interbasaltic and other sediments, tuffs • Subaqueous/subglacial material such as pillow basalts • Historical and other Holocene lava flows • Intrusions, acidic rocks • Thick series of thin pahoehoe “flow units” • AMS • Rock magnetism • Regional heating and alteration effects Few foreign groups have carried out paleomagnetic fieldwork in Iceland in recent years, and the level of our own efforts is decreasing. The most valuable potential of Iceland for paleomagnetism may lie in accurate radiometric dating of reversals and excursions.

  29. Finally, it may be mentioned that paleomagnetic research in Iceland has aided in the interpretation of the local aeromagnetic anomalies

  30. Thank you

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