Alkalic marine tephra layers at ODP Site 1241 - Major explosive eruptions from an oceanic volcano in a pre-shield stage?

J. C. Schindlbeck*, S. Kutterolf, A. Freundt, G. D.M. Andrews, K. L. Wang, D. Völker, R. Werner, M. Frische, K. Hoernle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


We report a series of fourteen marine tephra layers that are the products of large explosive eruptions of Subplinian to Plinian intensities and magnitudes (VEI > 4) from Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Cocos Island is a volcanic island in the eastern Central Pacific Ocean ~ 500 km offshore Costa Rica, and is situated on the northwestern flank of the aseismic Cocos Ridge. Geochemical fingerprinting of Pleistocene (~ 2.4–1.4 Ma) marine tephra layers from Ocean Drilling Project (ODP) Leg 202 Site 1241 using major and trace element compositions of volcanic glass shards demonstrates unequivocally their origin from Cocos Island rather than the Galápagos Archipelago or the Central American Volcanic Arc (CAVA). Cocos Island and the adjacent seamounts of the Cocos Island Province have alkalic compositions and formed on young (≤ 3 Ma) oceanic crust from an extinct spreading ridge bounded by a transform fault against the older and thicker crust of the aseismic Cocos Ridge. Cocos Island has six times the average volume of the adjacent seamounts although all appear to have formed during the 3–1.4 Ma time period. Cocos Island lies closest to the transform fault and we explain its excessive growth by melts rising from garnet-bearing mantle being deflected from the thick Cocos Ridge lithosphere toward the thinner lithosphere on the other side of the transform, thus enlarging the melt catchment area for Cocos Island compared to the seamounts farther away from the transform. This special setting favored growth above sea level and subaerial explosive eruptions even though the absence of appropriate compositions suggests that the entirely alkalic Cocos Island (and seamounts) never evolved through the productive tholeiitic shield stage typical of other Pacific Ocean islands, possibly because melt production rates remained too small. Conditions of magma generation and ascent resembled Hawaiian pre-shield volcanoes but persisted for much longer (< 1 m.y.) and formed evolved, trachytic magmas. Therefore Cocos Island may be a unique example for a volcanic ocean island that did not pass through the typical growth stages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-104
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Ocean island evolution
  • Pleistocene marine tephrostratigraphy
  • Subaerial explosive volcanism
  • Tectonically controlled melt ascent
  • Widespread fallout tephras


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