The Duration of a Yellowstone Super-Eruption Cycle and Implications for the Age of the Olduvai Subchron

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Small-volume rhyolitic eruptions preceding and following a caldera-forming eruption can provide insights into the tempo of eruption cycles and timing of magmatic recharge. In this contribution, high-precision 40Ar/39Ar eruption ages were obtained on the three effusive eruptions bracketing the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, which comprise Yellowstone’s first volcanic cycle. These dates are supplemented with detailed paleomagnetic and rock magnetic analyses to resolve discrepancies with previous reported stratigraphy. The Huckleberry Ridge Tuff (2.08 Ma) was preceded by an eruption at 2.14 Ma, and followed by eruptions at 1.98 and 1.95 Ma, all of which occurred during four distinct periods of geomagnetic instability within the Matuyama chron. The first volcanic cycle of Yellowstone has now been constrained to within a 200 kyr timespan, or half of the previously proposed duration, and similar to the duration of volcanic activity for caldera-forming systems in the Jemez Volcanic Field. The maximum duration for magmatic recharge for the first Yellowstone volcanic cycle is no greater than 100 kyr, and likely closer to 40 kyr. Furthermore, the combined 40Ar/39Ar eruption ages and paleomagnetic results provide polarity anchors for the Pre-Olduvai excursion and Olduvai subchron, which are often used as tie-points in studies of early Pleistocene hominin evolution.