The Eocene Big Timber stock in the Crazy Mountains of south-central Montana is an elliptical, 8 by 13 km, compositionally and texturally diverse composite intrusion with a well-developed radial dike swarm. A sharp intrusive contact separates its two phases: the core of the intrusion is fine-grained quartz monzodiorite, and the volumetrically dominant remainder is composed of medium-grained diorite and gabbro.
Differentiation-related major oxide variation within the stock is extensive and spatially nonsystematic. However, abundances of most trace elements were not strongly influenced by differentiation; late zircon and apatite fractionation caused moderate heavy and slight light rare earth element abundance depletions, respectively. Mineral compositions and assemblages indicate crystallization between ≈950 and 700 °C at a pressure of ≈0.8 kbar (3 km). Mixing models indicate that fractionation of varying amounts of plagioclase, orthopyroxene, clinopyroxene, magnesio-hastingsite, hornblende, biotite, titanite, apatite, and magnetite (the stock's principal constituents, with quartz and potassium feldspar) and remixing of these minerals and residual liquids controlled compositional evolution in the reservoir. Crystals apparently nucleated at the reservoir wall while residual silicate liquid was displaced inward and remixed. Some crystals were plucked from the solidification front, as indicated by glomerocrysts present throughout the stock, and also remixed with residual liquid. Solidification of the reservoir represented by the stock involved heat loss to enclosing wall rock, side-wall crystallization, and subsequent, variably effective, crystal-liquid remixing. This process is an important variant of conventionally invoked models pertaining to solidification of intrusions and explains extensive, relatively nonsystematic compositional variation. The genesis of compositional evolution in other intrusions characterized by extensive, spatially nonsystematic variation may result from the important process documented herein.
Compositional and geologic relationships are consistent with magma genesis related to subduction and magmatic-arc processes inboard from the western edge of the early Cenozoic North American plate. Arc magmatism in south-central Montana during Eocene time is consistent with models pertaining to early Cenozoic southward sweep and westward retreat of magmatism. Magmatism represented by the Big Timber stock provides significant new support for steepening subduction, westward retreat of the subduction hinge line, and development of an asthenospheric mantle wedge that fueled renewed magmatism beneath the western edge of the North American continent following early Cenozoic shallow subduction.