Recent alkaline lavas that have erupted across the disparate terranes of the northern Canadian Cordillera provide natural probes with which to interrogate the underlying lithosphere. The lavas range between two compositional end members, olivine nephelinite (NEPH) and hypersthene-normative olivine (Hy-NORM) basalt. The chemical signature of amphibole in the incompatible element enriched NEPH end member indicates that it is derived in the lithospheric mantle. The Hy-NORM end member is characterized by lower incompatible trace element contents but is still relatively enriched relative to primitive mantle. Although the Hy-NORM end member is always more radiogenic in Pb and Sr isotopes and less radiogenic in Nd isotopes than the NEPH end member, its isotopic signature varies with tectonic belt. In particular, Hy-NORM basalts in the Omineca Belt are strikingly more radiogenic in Sr and Pb isotopes and less radiogenic in Nd isotopes than otherwise equivalent Hy-NORM basalts in the adjacent Intermontane Belt, indicating the existence of a major lithospheric boundary between the two belts. Cordilleran and other continental Hy-NORM basalts have distinctly low Ca and high Na contents compared with their equivalents in oceanic hot spots or at mid-ocean ridges. A comparison with experimental melts of mantle peridotite indicates that these characteristics reflect smaller degrees of partial melting (<10%) in the stability field of garnet in the lower lithospheric mantle beneath the northern Cordillera. Contrary to the conclusion commonly drawn from experimental results, the Cordilleran NEPH lavas may be derived from similar or shallower depths than coeval Hy-NORM basalts.

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