Intra-Vent Peperites Related to the Phreatomagmatic 71 Gulch Volcano, Western Snake River Plain Volcanic Field, Idaho (USA)

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The western Snake River Plain volcanic field in SW Idaho contains up to 400 basaltic vents and centers that produced lava shields, pahoehoe lava fields, scoria cones, and a great variety of phreatomagmatic volcanoes between late Miocene and middle Pleistocene time. Tephra deposits produced by phreatomagmatic eruptions are particularly well exposed in the walls of the Snake River canyon, where thick accumulations of pyroclastic rocks indicate widespread phreatomagmatic eruptive events throughout most of the volcanic history of the region. Previously, many of the phreatomagmatic deposits were considered to be the products of subaqueous eruptions that took place on the floor of one or more large freshwater intra-continental lakes. Recent field based observations confirm the presence of widespread phreatomagmatic pyroclastic rocks; however, some that had been interpreted as being subaqueous exhibit textural features that are more consistent with subaerial depositional environments. Intrusive and extrusive magmatic bodies with features associated with peperite formation have also been identified. Most of these peperites can be attributed to magma–sediment mixing in intra-crater/conduit or vent settings, and therefore they can only be used as widespread paleoenvironmental indicators with limitations to demonstrate magma and surface water (e.g. lake) non-explosive interaction. One of the studied sites (“71 Gulch Volcano”) was previously used to indicate the presence of a shallow lake. At this site there is clear field evidence that peperitic feeder dykes contacted muddy, sandy siliciclastic sediments forming globular peperite. The peperitic feeder dykes transition to pillowed, ponded lava up section. The ponded lavas are partially surrounded by a ~ 5-m-thick unit composed of gently dipping, dune bedded, volcanic glass shard-rich, unsorted, tuff and lapilli tuff containing abundant impact sags caused by volcanic lithics. We suggest that the 3D architecture of the erosional remnant of “71 Gulch Volcano” does not require the presence of a lake at the time of its formation; it is equally possible that that it represents a subaerial phreatomagmatic upper conduit — crater filling succession. This interpretation opens up many questions about the Mio/Pliocene evolution of SW Idaho, the timing of the volcanism, and its association with the evolution of the lacustrine systems in the region. In addition, re-evaluations of the volcanic features in SW Idaho have some general implications for the usage of phreatomagmatic pyroclastic rocks for paleoenvironmental reconstruction.