The microstructure of layered ultramafic cumulates: case study of the Bear Creek intrusion, Trinity ophiolite, California, USA

Hadrien Henry*, Mary-Alix Kaczmarek, Georges Ceuleneer, Romain Tilhac, William L. Griffin, Suzanne Y. O'Reilly, Michel Grégoire, Elisabeth Le Sueur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In the Trinity ophiolite, California, USA, several mafic-ultramafic plutons intruded a peridotitic host 435 to 405 m.y. ago in a tectonic setting interpreted as an arc-related spreading centre. One of these intrusions, in the Bear Creek area, exposes basal ultramafic cumulates with igneous layering comprising an alternation of uncommonly thin (down to a few mm) layers of dunite, peridotite and pyroxenite that might be specific to this tectonic setting. These layers offer an excellent opportunity to characterise the microstructure of uncommon cumulates from the lower crust using EBSD (Electron Backscatter Diffraction). This “high-frequency” layering rests on underlying lherzolites and grades upward to more massive pyroxenites (i.e. clinopyroxenites with minor olivine-rich layers). Our field observations and data from the Bear Creek cumulates together with the preservation of magmatic features suggest the environment was tectonically stable after the emplacement of the cumulates. A detailed microstructural investigation of all minerals from the Bear Creek cumulates allows us to decipher their magmatic and plastic deformation history. In a structural reference frame defined by the compositional layering and the elongation direction of the surrounding host peridotites, olivine in the cumulates presents a [010]-fibre fabric and rarely a [001](010) fabric. Clinopyroxene shows a concentration of [010] axes normal to the layering plane with [100] and [001] defining girdles. Orthopyroxene mostly has a fabric with [100] and/or [010] subnormal to the layering plane and [001] scattered along a girdle in the plane of layering. All minerals show a strong fabric. We interpret the formation of the developed planar microstructures as a result of magmatic processes, with high contribution of crystal settling. To a lesser extent, compaction could have been operating and may be linked to the rare evidence of plastic deformation. Clusters of axes within the girdles of olivine and pyroxene CPOs preferentially appear close to the direction of elongation of the surrounding peridotites (i.e. N115°). EBSD analysis of the shape-preferred orientation of Bear Creek's minerals revealed a preferential alignment of the olivine and cpx long axis with the N°115 direction. This magmatic lineation and the preferred direction in the CPOs girdles are both consistent with the stretching lineation acquired during solid-state deformation by the mantle peridotite of the Trinity ophiolite. We suggest that a weak magma flux early on and/or an ongoing but limited regional stress could be responsible for these clusters. Although a direct coupling between asthenospheric flow and magmatic flow cannot be invoked in this context of melt intrusion in the lithosphere, this result highlights that the stress field applied on the mantle could have been still active and similar during the formation of Bear Creek intrusion. Our new field and microstructural data, together with previously presented petrological data, fit a scenario for the evolution of the Trinity ophiolite in which a mantle segment was intruded by a single large batch of primitive boninitic-andesitic melt. Our results emphasise the importance of considering the initial magmatic microstructures and the original shape anisotropy when investigating later deformation in ultramafic rocks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106047
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Magmatic fabric
  • Cumulate suite
  • Trinity Ophiolite
  • Plastic deformation
  • Peridotite and pyroxenite EBSD
  • Compaction of cumulates


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