New field mapping has discovered numerous sections of pillow lavas with hyaloclastites at the lowest levels of Jurassic Karoo volcanic sequences across Lesotho and South Africa. Vesicularity (content and size) and geochemistry of the ca. 1 to 50 m thick pillow lavas sequences presently preserved at 1 670 to 2 150 m asl reveal they originated below 500 m of water. Most of the initial 87Sr/86Sr ratios of the pillow lavas scatter around ca. 0.708, which is also the value of Jurassic seawater. There is an increase in the δ18O values concomitantly with increasing alteration, a well-known feature at low-temperature when marine basalts alter to high-δ18O bearing minerals, such as clays and zeolites, stripping 18O by mass balance from seawater. This feature, combined with element behavior of the most altered samples, as well as the Sr-isotope signatures, suggest that the Karoo pillow lavas and hyaloclastites most likely altered under low-temperature conditions in seawater.
Geochemistry of the major oxides and trace elements of the Karoo pillow lavas reveal they define tholeiitic basalt with minor basaltic andesite. The pillow lavas define Th/Yb-ratios well above the mantle array indicating derivation from subduction-related components, and their Ti-V relations are similar to mid-oceanic ridge basalt (MORB). The Nd-Sr isotope data for the pillow lavas indicate that the primary magma assimilated ca. 10 to 15% of continental crust. This is consistent with knowledge from mapping that sills and dykes cover close to 50% of the surface geology surrounding the sub-horizontal pillow lava sequences, and from drill-cores that these dolerites reached a minimum crustal depth of ca. 6 km below Jurassic sea level.
The Karoo pillow lavas erupted between 186 and 184 Ma in relatively deep seawater of a possible rift system linked to fragmented continental lithosphere surrounded by ocean spreading domains, such as at the open-end of the East African rift across the Afar. By 183 Ma, Karoo volcanics extruded above sea level and after 182 Ma the pillow lavas were uplifted by at least 1 700 m. Thereafter, during farther up warping across the Karoo Large Igneous Province (KLIP), lavas across Lesotho reached heights over 3 500 masl by 140 Ma, and then eroded to their near present heights around 120 to 100 Ma as determined through a number of thermo-chronology and offshore sedimentation analyses. Thus, unlike the volcanics of the Ethiopian LIP, which erupted across continental crust at 2 000 masl ca. 30 to 40 million years prior to extensional tectonism across the Afar triple junction, KLIP reached its highest topography ca. 30 to 40 Myrs after early initiation across a triple junction system well-below sea level. This difference in timing between crustal extension and epeirogeny has implications for geodynamic and geochemical models that trace dispersal across southern Gondwana between Africa and Antarctica.