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Columnar-jointed komatiite lava flow (Upper Komatiitic Unit, Kidd-Munro Assemblage, Neoarchean, 2.711-2.717 Ga; southwest of the Potter Mine, east of Timmins, Ontario, Canada) 5

Columnar-jointed komatiite lava flow (Upper Komatiitic Unit, Kidd-Munro Assemblage, Neoarchean, 2.711-2.717 Ga; southwest of the Potter Mine, east of Timmins, Ontario, Canada) 5

Columnar-jointed komatiite lava flow in the Precambrian of Ontario, Canada.

Komatiites are very rare, magnesium-rich, extrusive, ultramafic igneous rocks. They are named after the Komati River Valley in South Africa, the type locality. Komatiite is an exceedingly rare type of lava. No volcano on Earth erupts this material today. Komatiites are essentially restricted to the Archean (4.55 to 2.5 billion years ago). Experimental evidence has shown that komatiite lavas, when originally erupted, were considerably hotter (~1600º C) than any modern lava type on Earth. This indicates that Earth’s mantle was much hotter than now. Other geologic evidence also indicates that early Earth’s heat flux was much higher than today’s.

Komatiite lava had a very low viscosity - it could flow like an ultradense gas. This property permitted the solidification of some individual lava flows that are only 1 cm thick.

The classic texture of komatiites is spinifex texture, named after clumps of long, spiky (& painful!) grasses. Komatiites with spinifex texture have short to long blades or plates of olivine mixed with smaller-scale blades of pyroxene.

All Archean komatiites are metamorphosed - the original igneous mineralogy (olivine, pyroxene, minor chromite, etc.) is gone to mostly gone. Such rocks are best termed metakomatiites, but the prefix “meta-” is usually not specified in writing.

Komatiites have economic significance, as many are closely associated with copper-nickel minerals (chalcopyrite & pentlandite), plus minor platinum-group elements, arsenides, bismuthides, and maybe a little gold and silver. Komatiites are a world-class source of nickel in Canada and Western Australia.

The outcrop seen here is part of a komatiite "lava lake" next to the Potter Mine in Ontario, Canada. This is near the world-famous Pyke Hill locality, which has numerous, thin komatiite lava flows. The rocks in the Potter Mine-Pyke Hill area are part of the Kidd-Munro Assemblage, which consists of ultramafic and mafic volcanic rocks intruded by mafic to ultramafic dikes and sill-like bodies. Minor felsic volcanic rocks are also present. Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits occur in the Kidd-Munro Assemblage - they have been mined at the Texas Gulf Mine and the Potter Mine.

The rocks at this particular site were originally interpreted as part of a relatively thick komatiite lava lake, the last feature of a volcanic eruption. A newer interpretation says that this is a series of thick komatiite sheet flows (at least 6) in a paleo-depression. A thin lava lake may have originally capped the succession.

This is an exposure of a structurally tilted, olivine cumulate-textured lava flow (komatiite). The polygonal structures are columnar jointing. Famous localities having excellent columnar jointing include Giants Causeway (Ireland), Devils Tower (Wyoming, USA), and Devils Postpile (California, USA). Columnar jointing forms as a lava flow cools and contracts, resulting in the development of shrinkage cracks. As shrinkage cracks grow, they branch at ~120º angles (as seen in map view). Crack networks merge with other networks to form columns having a polygonal cross-section shape. Most columns are hexagonal or pentagonal in shape. A few are 3-sided, 4-sided, or 7-sided.
Short description of site from Houlé et al. (2010):

The upper part of the "Lava Lake" exposure is characterized by well-developed columnar jointing.
Stratigraphy: Upper Komatiitic Unit, Kidd-Munro Assemblage, Abitibi Greenstone Belt, lower Neoarchean, 2.711-2.717 Ga

Locality: "Lava Lake" exposure southwest of the Potter Mine, north of Route 101, east-northeast of Matheson & south of the western end of Lake Abitibi & ~83 kilometers east of the city of Timmins, Munro Township, southern Cochrane District, eastern Ontario, southeastern Canada (~vicinity of 48° 35' 48.73" North latitude, 80° 12' 48.67" West longitude) (= stop 2.4D of Houlé et al., 2010 - Stratigraphy and physical volcanology of komatiites and associated Ni-Cu-(PGE) mineralization in the western Abitibi Greenstone Belt, Timmins area, Ontario: a field trip for the 11th International Platinum Symposium. Ontario Geological Survey Open File Report 6255, p. 34 (figure 16) & p. 44.)

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Photo taken on 14 July 2012 (© James St. John / Flickr)

Related tags :
 potter, mine, ontario, canada, centre, hill, archean, precambrian, upper, komatiitic, unit, kidd-munro, assemblage, abitibi, greenstone, belt, neoarchean, komatiite, metakomatiite, komatiites

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