Abstract

Dolerite sill complexes of the Karoo Large Igneous Province (ca. 183 Ma) show systematic variations in emplacement style and size throughout the Karoo basin. These variations are explained in terms of three main, interrelated factors, namely the overburden thickness or emplacement depth, variations in host rock rigidities as a result of sedimentary facies changes in the Karoo basin, and proximity to magma feeders.

In the northern parts of the thinner (<500 m) and more coarse-clastic Karoo stratigraphy, sills intrude preferentially below more rigid sandstone horizons that acted as stress barriers causing the arrest of magma ascent and lateral spreading below sandstone beds. The low overburden promotes roof uplift above sills and associated brittle faulting can initiate the formation of inclined sheets that limits the lateral propagation path of inner sills. Roof uplift is further promoted by the proximity to magma feeders in the basement and resulting variations in magma pressure that control the spreading rate and inflation of sills. Localised dyke networks spaced at regular intervals and rooted in underlying sills reflect the stretching of roof rocks above inflating sills. The combination of these effects results in relatively small (<10 km) diameters of sills in the northern parts of the basin.

Sills emplaced at intermediate depths (ca. 700 m) in the central Karoo basin are marked by larger diameters (>30 km) and thicknesses of up to 100 m. This reflects the higher overburden pressures and the delay of roof failure and subsequent formation of inclined sheets. Dyke networks in the roof of these sills become more irregular and non-systematic at these greater depths. At even greater depths of up to 2 km in the southern parts of the Karoo basin, mega-sills reach diameters of 50 to 80 km, but thicknesses of only up to 35 m. Thick shale-rich sequences in the southern Karoo basin facilitate sill emplacement through internal host-rock deformation and ductile flow. The thicker overburden and different host rock rigidity delay or suppress roof failure and formation of inclined sheet, thus allowing for the lateral propagation of sills. The deeper-seated sills are typically not associated with local dyke networks.

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