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Correlation of welded ignimbrites on Pantelleria (Strait of Sicily) using paleomagnetism

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Although the oldest volcanic rocks exposed at Pantelleria (Strait of Sicily) are older than 300 ka, most of the island is covered by the 45–50 ka Green Tuff ignimbrite, thought to be related to the Cinque Denti caldera, and younger lavas and scoria cones. Pre-50 ka rocks (predominantly rheomorphic ignimbrites) are exposed at isolated sea cliffs, and their stratigraphy and chronology are not completely resolved. Based on volcanic stratigraphy and K/Ar dating, it has been proposed that the older La Vecchia caldera is related to ignimbrite Q (114 ka), and that ignimbrites F, D, and Z (106, 94, and 79 ka, respectively) were erupted after caldera formation. We report here the paleomagnetic directions obtained from 23 sites in ignimbrite P (133 ka) and four younger ignimbrites, and from an uncorrelated (and loosely dated) welded lithic breccia thought to record a caldera-forming eruption. The paleosecular variation of the geomagnetic field recorded by ignimbrites is used as correlative tool, with an estimated time resolution in the order of 100 years. We find that ignimbrites D and Z correspond, in good agreement with recent Ar/Ar ages constraining the D/Z eruption to 87 ka. The welded lithic breccia correlates with a thinner breccia lying just below ignimbrite P at another locality, implying that collapse of the La Vecchia caldera took place at ~130–160 ka. This caldera was subsequently buried by ignimbrites P, Q, F, and D/Z. Paleomagnetic data also show that the northern caldera margin underwent a ~10° west–northwest (outwards) tilting after emplacement of ignimbrite P, possibly recording magma resurgence in the crust.

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Many thanks to S. La Felice for helpful discussions on the volcanic evidence from Pantelleria. FS expresses his gratitude to P. Landi for introducing him to the spectacular geology of Pantelleria. ADC thanks F. Salvini and M. Mattei for their support. Part of the 2009 field work was done along with unforgotten university degree students from Palermo and Madrid. The authoritative review by “The Lord of the Ignimbrites” Mike Branney provided us with a rigorous guide on terminology and interpretation of welded and rheomorphic ignimbrites. We are also grateful to Gail Mahood and Conall Mac Niocaill for providing careful reviews of our manuscript, as well as to BV Editor Raffaello Cioni and Executive Editor James D.L. White for carefully evaluating our paper. FS wishes to remind that this was the last work he could discuss with the late Maestro and friend Renato Funiciello.

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Correspondence to Fabio Speranza.

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Editorial responsibility: R. Cioni

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Speranza, F., Di Chiara, A. & Rotolo, S.G. Correlation of welded ignimbrites on Pantelleria (Strait of Sicily) using paleomagnetism. Bull Volcanol 74, 341–357 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-011-0521-9

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  • Pantelleria
  • Ignimbrite
  • Caldera formation
  • Paleomagnetism
  • Paleosecular variation of the geomagnetic field