Ash flow tuffs, or ignimbrites, typically contain fine-grained magnetite, spanning the superparamagnetic to single-domain size range that should be suitable for estimating geomagnetic field intensity. However, ignimbrites may have a remanence of thermal and chemical origin as a result of the complex magnetic mineralogy and variations in the thermal and alteration history. We examined three stratigraphic sections through the ~0.76 Ma Bishop Tuff, where independent information on postemplacement cooling and alteration is available, as a test of the suitability of ignimbrites for paleointensity studies. Thermomagnetic curves suggest that low-Ti titanomagnetite (Tc = 560°C–580°C) is the dominant phase, with a minor contribution from a higher Tc phase(s). Significant remanence unblocking above 580°C suggests that maghemite and/or (titano)maghemite is an important contributor to the remanence in most samples. We obtained successful paleofield estimates from remanence unblocked between 440°C and 580°C for 46 of 89 specimens (15 sites at two of three total localities). These specimens represent a range of degrees of welding and have variable alteration histories and yet provide a consistent paleofield estimate of 43.0 µT (±3.2), equivalent to a VADM of 7.8 × 1022 Am2. The most densely welded sections of the tuff have emplacement temperatures inferred to be as high as ~660°C, suggesting that the remanence may be primarily thermal in origin, though a contribution from thermochemical remanence cannot be excluded. These results suggest that ignimbrites may constitute a viable material for reliable paleointensity determinations.
Gee, Jeffrey S.; Yu, Yongjae; and Bowles, Julie A., "Paleointensity estimates from ignimbrites: An evaluation of the Bishop Tuff" (2010). Geosciences Faculty Articles. 12.
Originally published in Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems, v.11, no.3 (March 16, 2010). doi:10.1029/2009GC002834