The 6 km thick Ordovician Borrowdale Volcanic Group is readily divisible into a lower 2.2–2.7 km thick predominantly pre-caldera succession dominated by basalt, andesite and dacite sheets, and an upper succession of caldera-related ignimbrites and volcaniclastic sedimentary rocks of c. 3 km thickness. The lower Borrowdale Volcanic Group rocks, here included within a single lithostratigraphical unit, the Birker Fell Formation, affords a well-exposed section through a pre-caldera sequence.

The Birker Fell Formation is dominated by andesites which comprise 60% of the stratigraphy. Thin sequences of reworked volcanic detritus are commonly interbedded with the andesites; locally there are thicker units of volcaniclastic sedimentary rocks. Interpretation of the stratigraphy and eruptive history of the formation has been aided by the recognition of some distinctive lithological units including: (1) a 200-600 m thick sequence of weakly parallel-bedded basaltic tuffs resting on the pre-volcanic basement, (2) a 200-600 m sequence of single flow unit aa basalts, (3) dacite flows and ignimbrites up to > 1100 m thick in the middle and upper parts of the formation and (4) aphyric to pyroxene-phyric, simple and compound flows of basalt, 50-400 m thick, locally present in the uppermost parts.

Analysis of the facies comprising the Birker Fell Formation indicates that it was emplaced as a sub-aerial, plateau-andesite sequence, formed by the coalescence of products erupted from a number of centres or fissures in an extensional, subsiding volcano-tectonic rift zone. Volcano-tectonic faulting and eruption of thick ignimbrites locally influenced development of this field.

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