Geochemistry of the Sabie River Basalt Formation in the central Lebombo, Karoo Igneous Province

The Sabie River Basalt Formation is a group of tholeiitic basaltic rocks erupted ca 190 Ma ago in the eastern zone of the Karoo Igneous Province of southern Africa. It is traceable over a distance of 700 km from Zululand, northwards along the Lebombo monocline into the Transvaal and south-east Zimbabwe. An abrupt compositional change in this formation occurs about halfway down its length in the vicinity of the Sabie and Komati Rivers: basalts to the north are known to be enriched in certain incompatible elements relative to basalts in the south, which are comparable in geochemistry to most basaltic rocks in the southern part of the Karoo Igneous Province. New data obtained in this work include 134 major and trace element whole-rock analyses, some 400 analyses of constituent minerals, 38 ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr ratio determinations, 19 ¹⁴³Nd/¹⁴⁴Nd ratio determinations, 16 common Pb determinations and 12 oxygen isotope analyses. The "normal" (N) and "enriched" basaltic rocks are distinguished by differences in the concentrations of Ti, P, Zr, Nb, Y, La, Ce and Nd (high field strength elements). Broadly these differences are substantiated by K, Rb, Ba and Sr, but with much more overlap. The "enriched" group of basaltic rocks has been further subdivided into a low-Fe "enriched" (LFE) group and a high-Fe "enriched" group (HFE). The LFE-group basalts, which predominate at the base of the stratigraphic sections, are considered to be equivalent to basalts occurring in the N. Lebombo. In the central Lebombo N-group basalts predominate in the mid- and upper portions of the sections and HFE-group basalt occurs near the top of each section. Interbedding of all basalt groups occurs in the Sabie River section at the northern end of the study area, while the N- and HFE-group basalts are interbedded in the Crocodile and Komati River sections further to the south. The decrease in LFE-group basalt abundance southwards is accompanied by an increase in N-group basalt abundance. HFE-group basalts appear to be unique to the central Lebombo area of the Karoo Igneous Province and are volumetrically less significant than N- or LFE-group basalts. Petrogenetic models involving closed-system fractional crystallization; coupled assimilation (of granitic crust) fractional crystallization; replenished, tapped and fractionated magma chambers and partial melting are examined. Granitic crustal contamination appears to have been significant only in some samples of the N group where assimilation of granitic material has proceeded in a bulk fashion described by an AFC model. RTF models are dynamically more realistic than closed-system fractional crystallization models and explain increases in incompatible elements with decreasing MgO in the LFE and HFE groups. Variations in the N group, however, require varying degrees of partial melting of a N-type source to be explained fully. RTF models may explain the absence of any stratigraphic correlations of element abundances in the three groups. The HFE group may be related to an uncontaminated N-type parent composition by a combination of continued fractional crystallization from an N-group parent composition and varying degrees of partial melting of an N-type source. The only petrogenetic process by which the N and LFE groups may be related is different degrees of partial melting. However, this demands a source composition which has no resemblance on trace element and isotopic grounds, to observed mantle xenolith compositions. The preferred model is one in which the LFE group is derived from old sub-cratonic mantle similar to garnet-bearing "cold" peridotite xenoliths and the N group from a source similar in composition to estimates of primitive mantle. The existence of two types of mantle derived continental flood basalt magmas occurs in other Mesozoic basalt provinces in "southern" Gondwanaland (e.g. Kirwanveggan of Antarctica, Etendeka of Namibia and the Parana Basin of South America). It is suggested that there is a geographical association of LFE-type basalts with Archaean crust (or Archaean crust re-worked in low temperature - high pressure events) and N-type basalts with post-Archaean crust (or Archaean crust re-worked in high temperature - low pressure events). This model suggests the derivation of the LFE group, from old sub-cratonic lithospheric mantle relatively enriched in incompatible elements and the N group being derived from more recently accreted and less enriched lithospheric mantle underlying younger crustal terraines.