Abstract

Several silicic units of the Trans-Pecos volcanic field have outcrop and thin-section scale features of lava flows but areal extents and aspect ratios of ignimbrites. These voluminous rocks (up to hundreds of cubic kilometres per unit) are quartz trachytes to low-silica rhyolites (68% to 72%SiO2). Lava flow features include flow banding and folding, elongated vesicles, and autobreccias and vitrophyres at the base and top of units. Pyroclastic flow features include sheetlike geometry, lateral extents up to 70 km, aspect ratios as low as 1:700, and areal extents up to 3000 km2. A few of these units are clearly rheomorphic ignimbrites, but others show no unambiguous evidence of a primary pyroclastic origin. Although no adequate explanation currently exists for the origin of the latter, we evaluate two end-member hypotheses: (1) they are ignimbrites in which extreme rheomorphism has obliterated primary internal features, and (2) they are highly viscous lavas with unusually high heat retention or effusion rates that allowed them to spread over great areas. Either origin requires a rock type and eruptive mechanism not commonly recognized.

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