Five suites of alkalic basalt ranging in age from Late Precambrian to Late Devonian are found in the Antigonish Highlands of Nova Scotia. In contrast, on neighbouring Cape Breton Island, alkalic basalts are rare even in suites that are contemporaneous with those in the Antigonish Highlands. Late Precambrian alkalic basalts in the Antigonish Highlands are genetically associated with calc-alkalic rocks and are probably subduction related, whereas the younger suites are continental, rift related, and within plate. Major and compatible trace-element abundances can be explained by crystal fractionation of olivine ± clinopyroxene ± orthopyroxene ± spinel ± garnet. However, incompatible trace-element concentrations are strongly influenced by mantle metasomatism that occurred prior to, or synchronously with, the oldest alkalic rocks. The metasomatic event enriched the mantle in Fe, Ti, P, Zr, and light rare-earth elements. The trace-element composition of the younger suites is similar to that of the oldest alkalic rocks and may have been strongly influenced by the Late Precambrian metasomatic event. The anomalously low Nb/Y ratio (generally less than 1 in all suites) and application of phase-equilibria studies indicate that the metasomatic fluid was probably rich in H2O. This fluid may have been derived from dehydration of the subducting slab in Late Precambrian time, resulting in metasomatism of the overlying mantle wedge in the Late Precambrian. It is proposed that the younger suites obtained their fluids by dehydration of the previously metasomatized mantle associated with the generation of local pull-apart basins. Thus, the metasomatic fluid was exotic with respect to the oldest basalts but indigenous with respect to the younger basalts. In the younger basalts, the indigenous fluid was probably focussed at the site of melting by structural events (i.e., rifting). In situations in which the chemistry of mafic magmas is predetermined by earlier metasomatic events, caution is advised in using trace-element criteria to evaluate the tectonic setting.

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