Abstract

In a recent review of the nature of batholiths, Hamilton and Myers (1967) interpreted the Boulder batholith of western Montana to be “in effect a gigantic mantled lava flow .... only a few kilometers thick,” that flowed, under a crust of its own ejecta, across a broad structural basin. Such an interpretation is inconsistent with abundant geologic and geophysical data.

The main mass of the batholith, the Butte Quartz Monzonite, does not have the characteristics of a lava flow or a laterally emplaced sheet. Its volcanic cover was not a floating cap but a laterally stable roof that was part of a volcanic plateau which occupied at least twice the area of the batholith. It does not thin toward its edges but is generally steep sided. Its flow structures are predominantly steep rather than near horizontal. It is separated from two smaller flanking plutons by thin vertical septa kilometers long. Its emplacement required more than 4 m.y., a rate orders of magnitude too slow for a single sheet only a few kilometers thick, however extensive.

The batholith is more than a few kilometers thick. Recent gravity studies (Burfeind, 1967; Bonini, 1969) suggest a maximum thickness of 9 to 15 km to their authors, but the calculations are based on (1) assumed lateral and vertical homogeneity of the batholith, whereas in reality the Butte Quartz Monzonite core is discontinuously rimmed by more mafic, denser plutons; and (2) inappropriate densities, leading to excessive apparent density contrasts. The gravity data suggest to us that the batholith is more than 15 km thick. Heat flow, cooling rate, and seismic data also are compatible with a thickness of at least 15 km, but are difficult to reconcile with a thickness of only a few kilometers.

Convincing examples of extrusive or quasi-extrusive thin batholiths must be sought elsewhere.

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