Abstract

The Saw Mill Complex (SMC) is a 1 275 m thick layered komatiitic sequence in the 3.3 Ga Weltevreden Formation, uppermost stratigraphic unit of the Onverwacht Group in the northern part of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, South Africa. A series of ultramafic complexes in the Weltevreden Formation have previously been interpreted as layered ultramafic intrusions, consisting of thick, layered ultramafic units of peridotite, pyroxenite, dunite, and gabbro. However, recent work on the Pioneer complex of the Weltevreden Formation has demonstrated an extrusive origin of komatiitic flows and tuffs. The Weltevreden Formation has not been studied in the detail of other Onverwacht Group units, but it is likely composed of a number of individual tectonically juxtaposed terrains brought in by thrust faulting during deposition of Fig Tree Group sediments and felsic volcanics in a magmatic arc setting post-dating the Onverwacht mafic and ultramafic units, which are currently regarded as products of plume-based eruptive centers. This study represents an ongoing effort to elucidate the structure, stratigraphy, and petrogenesis of the Weltevreden Formation.

A new 1:1000 scale map and stratigraphic section of the SMC reinterpret the igneous complex as extrusive, with lithologic units interpreted as layered komatiitic flows and interbedded tuffs. Flows accumulated olivine, forming distinct layers from bottom to top of:

  • olivine adcumulate (dunitic lithologies),

  • poikilitic orthopyroxene with abundant olivine inclusions (pyroxenitic lithologies), and

  • olivine orthocumulate (peridotitic lithologies), and sometimes with a cap of

  • olivine-depleted pyroxene-rich orthocumulates (komatiitic basalts).

The chemical variation of flows is almost entirely controlled by olivine accumulation, with dunitic komatiites representing up to 70% accumulated olivine and 30% trapped liquid, and peridotitic komatiites representing only 25% accumulated olivine, while spinifex-textured komatiites are representative of quenched liquid. Minor (up to 1%) chromite accumulation partly affects bulk chemistry, while orthopyroxene accumulation may have an effect on bulk chemistry of SMC pyroxentitic komatiites. Layered flows are up to 120 m thick and some display spinifex-textured chilled upper margins. The original liquid was near primitive mantle composition that likely represents a two-stage melting process. The SMC was rapidly emplaced and was not near a major sedimentary depositional system, as no sediment other than tuff was deposited. Flows preserved in the SMC dominantly formed as open flow pathways, allowing for large quantities of olivine to accumulate in the lower portions of flows. Some flows formed as closed systems, possibly as a result of deforming tuffs below the flows to form lava lakes. Large cm-sized lapilli, including those with aerodynamic shapes, suggest subaerial explosions and possibly near-vent environments (though littoral rootless vents can develop 100’s of km’s from actual volcanic vents). Pillow structures have not been observed in the SMC.

Geochemically, the SMC is very similar to Weltevreden Formation komatiites recently studied in the Pioneer complex. They have Al2O3/TiO2 near 30, Gd/Lu normalized values between 0.8 and 1.2, maximum liquid compositions of approximately 33% MgO, and olivines up to Fo94. Oxygen fugacity of the mantle source is most likely to have change in log(fO2) of 0.00 relative to nickel-nickel-oxide buffer. SMC komatiites likely erupted at temperatures in excess of 1615°C based on MELTS modeling, and represent some of the hottest volcanism experienced on the early Earth.

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