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Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, t. 181, no 3, pp.

243-257

Petrology and K-Ar chronology of the Neogene-Quaternary Middle Atlas


basaltic province, Morocco
M’HAMMED EL AZZOUZI1,2, RENÉ C. MAURY2, HERVÉ BELLON2, NASRRDDINE YOUBI3, JOSEPH COTTEN2
and FATIMA KHARBOUCH1

Key-words. – Alkali basalts, Basanites, Nephelinites, Whole rock K-Ar ages, Partial melting, Lithosphere, Geochemistry, Middle
Atlas, Morocco.

Abstract. – The Middle Atlas basaltic province is the largest and youngest volcanic field in Morocco. A hundred
well-preserved strombolian cones and maars emitted numerous mafic lava flows, which cover a surface of ca. 960 km2.
The study of 103 samples from these volcanic units allows us to distinguish four lava types, to map their distribution, to
provide new K-Ar ages and to discuss their petrogenesis on the basis of their petrologic and geochemical (major and
trace element) features. Nephelinites represent only 1.2% of the total surface of volcanic units; they are scattered all
over it as small monogenic volcanoes built during the Middle and Late Miocene (16.25-5.87 Ma) and the Plio-Quater-
nary (3.92-0.67 Ma). The three other types are exclusively Plio-Quaternary (3.77-0.60 Ma). Basanites cover 22.5% of
the volcanic field area, and generally overlie the more widespread alkali basaltic flows (68.5% of the plateau surface).
Finally, subalkaline basalts form the El Koudiate cone and associated flows (7.8% of the surface of the volcanic units)
and their origin is ascribed to contamination of alkali basaltic magmas by the upper continental crust. We show that
nephelinites, basanites and alkali basalts derive from temporally increasing but small degrees of partial melting of vari-
ably enriched spinel– and garnet-bearing peridotites from the base of the North-African lithospheric mantle, at depths of
ca. 70 km. Partial melting was caused by an asthenospheric uprise, which induced dehydration melting of parga-
site-bearing enriched peridotites, metasomatised during an earlier Cenozoic plume-related magmatic event.

Pétrologie et chronologie K-Ar de la province basaltique néogène et quaternaire du Moyen


Atlas marocain

Mots-clés. – Basaltes alcalins, Basanites, Néphélinites, Ages K-Ar, Fusion partielle, Lithosphère, Géochimie, Moyen Atlas, Maroc.

Résumé. – La province volcanique basaltique du Moyen Atlas est la plus récente et la plus étendue du Maroc. Elle com-
porte une centaine de maars et de cônes stromboliens, ainsi que des coulées basaltiques associées qui couvrent une sur-
face de 960 km2. Nous proposons une carte de répartition des types de laves, basée sur l’étude pétrologique et
géochimique (éléments majeurs et en traces) de 103 échantillons ainsi que sur de nouvelles datations K-Ar sur roches
totales. Quatre types de laves sont distingués et leurs relations pétrogénétiques discutées. Les néphélinites forment de
petits volcans monogéniques isolés dispersés sur l’ensemble du plateau volcanique ; elles ne représentent que 1,2 % de
sa surface, et ont été émises au Miocène moyen et supérieur (16,25-5,87 Ma) et au Plio-Quaternaire (3,92-0,67 Ma). Les
trois autres types sont d’âge plio-quaternaire (3,77-0,60 Ma). Les basanites forment 22,5 % de la surface du plateau vol-
canique et recouvrent le plus souvent les coulées fluides de basaltes alcalins qui en représentent 68,5 %. Enfin, l’origine
des basaltes subalcalins du cône d’El Koudiate et des coulées associées (7,8 % de la province volcanique) est attribuée à
la contamination par la croûte supérieure de magmas basaltiques alcalins. Nous montrons que les néphélinites, les basa-
nites et les basaltes alcalins dérivent de degrés de fusion partielle faibles (mais croissants au cours du temps) d’un man-
teau hétérogène lherzolitique à spinelle et grenat de la base de la lithosphère nord-africaine. L’origine de la fusion
partielle est liée à une remontée de l’asthénosphère sous-jacente, qui a provoqué la fusion-déshydratation de péridotites
à pargasite. La formation de ces dernières résulte d’une métasomatose d’intensité variable intervenue pendant un événe-
ment magmatique intraplaque antérieur, vraisemblablement cénozoïque.

INTRODUCTION mantle sources, generally thought to correspond to deep


asthenospheric plume materials [Hart, 1988]. However, this
The study of intraplate basalts from intra-oceanic islands complexity may not only result from the initial chemical
and plateaus as well as from continental traps and rifts heterogeneity of mantle plumes, but also from the entrain-
shows the considerable chemical heterogeneity of their ment of surrounding mantle materials [Hart et al., 1992]. In

1. Faculté des Sciences, Université Mohammed-V, av. Ibn Batouta, BP 1014, 10100 Rabat, Maroc. Correspondance: azzouzi@fsr.ac.ma ou
elazzouzim@yahoo.fr
2. Université Européenne de Bretagne, UMR 6538 Domaines océaniques, IUEM, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, place Nicolas Copernic,
29280 Plouzané, France.
3. Faculté des Sciences Semlalia, Université Cadi Ayyad, Bd. Prince Moulay Abdellah, BP 2390, 40000 Marrakech, Maroc.
Manuscrit déposé le 11 juin 2008; accepté après révision le 10 août 2009.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


244 EL AZZOUZI M. et al.

addition, a lithospheric component is clearly recognised in lamprophyres, phonolites, nepheline syenites, nephelinites
some intra-continental basalts [Turner and Hawkesworth, and carbonatites [Mourtada et al., 1997] crosscutting the
1995] but its origin is debated. For instance, some authors Tamazert alkaline intrusion (High Atlas) and its limestone
suggested that melting of the Afar lithospheric mantle ex- country rocks gave older (Eocene) ages between 45 and
plains a significant proportion of the erupted lavas [Hart et 35 Ma [Bernard-Griffiths et al., 1991]. Other Eocene K-Ar
al., 1989; Vidal et al., 1991; Déniel et al., 1994] while oth- ages were reported for Rekkam basanites and nephelinites,
ers pointed out that continental crust contamination could with sixteen results clustered between 50 and 39 Ma and
account for the variable isotopic signatures of these basalts two younger ages at 35 and 32.5 Ma [Rachdi et al., 1997],
[Barrat et al., 1993; Chazot and Bertrand, 1993; Baker et and for the Zebzate nephelinite in the Middle Atlas
al., 1996; Pik et al., 1999]. In addition, the genesis of alkali (35 ⫾ 3 Ma [Harmand and Cantagrel, 1984]).
basalt – basanite – nephelinite suites was attributed to melt-
ing of amphibole-bearing metasomatised lithospheric man- Distribution of volcanoes and lava flows
tle beneath rifts [Spath et al., 2001], alkali intra-continental
magmatic provinces [Panter et al., 2006; Weinstein et al., Most of the Middle Atlas volcanic units cap the flat karstic
2006] and even beneath intra-oceanic islands [Class and surface of a tabular Jurassic dolomitic limestone plateau.
Goldstein, 1997]. The latter overlies Triassic red beds and tholeiitic lava flows
The Middle Atlas basaltic province is the largest and which in turn rest uncomformably over a Paleozoic base-
youngest volcanic field in Morocco [Martin, 1981; Frizon ment. Previous K-Ar ages [Harmand and Cantagrel, 1984;
de Lamotte et al., 2008]. This area is characterized by a Berrahma, 1995; Rachdi, 1995; El Azzouzi et al., 1999] and
high geothermal gradient [Rimi, 2001] and by thinned litho- 33 new results (this study) show that the Middle Atlas vol-
sphere, only ca. 70 km thick [Teixell et al., 2005; Zeyen canic activity occurred during the Middle and Late Mio-
et al., 2005; Missenard et al., 2006]. Tomographic data cene, the Pliocene and the Quaternary until 0.6-0.5 Ma
suggest that the underlying asthenospheric mantle is anoma- (table I). However, the occurrence of younger eruptions
lously hot [Spakman et al., 1993; De Jonge et al., 1994; cannot be discarded given the excellent preservation of
Hoernle et al., 1995; Goes et al., 1999]. A hundred some volcanic landforms (deep maar craters, breached
well-preserved strombolian cones and maars occur along a strombolian craters, tumuli and pressure ridges on the sur-
N160-170oE trend ca. 70 km long between El Hajeb and face of pahoehoe lava flows). Some maar deposits
Itzère (fig. 1). They emitted numerous mafic lava flows over (Tafraoute, Bou-Ibalrhatene) contain abundant mantle xeno-
a surface of ca. 960 km2 and include nephelinites, basanites liths (spinel lherzolites, pyroxenites) as well as granulites
and alkali basalts [Harmand and Cantagrel, 1984; Rachdi et from lower crust [Moukadiri and Bouloton, 1998]. The Bou
al., 1985; El Azzouzi et al., 1999]. We collected and studied Ibalrhatene xenolith suite includes metasomatic amphibole-
103 samples from these volcanic units with the following bearing lherzolites and harzburgites, wehrlites, websterites,
aims: (i) to draw a petrologic map of the area showing the clinopyroxenites and horblendites [Raffone et al., 2009].
relative abundance of the various magma types; (ii) to in- Numerous fluidal basaltic flows, some of them 30 to 50 km
vestigate their petrogenetic relationships and characterize long, were emitted from the strombolian cones. The total
their mantle sources, and finally (iii) to constrain their em- surface covered by the volcanics is rather large (960 km2),
placement chronology using 33 new K-Ar ages and discuss but the corresponding estimated volume remains low
their origin. (20 km3) because of the limited thickness (usually 20 to
30 m) of the lava flow pile.
The map shown in figure 1 is partly based on the
FIELD DATA AND GEOCHRONOLOGY
geomorphological study of Martin [1981], who provided ex-
cellent descriptions of volcanic landforms, and on the geo-
Regional setting logical map of Azrou [Faure-Muret and Mesloub, 2005].
The Cenozoic volcanism of the Atlas system is exclusively The N160-170oE trend defined by the main vents (Outgui,
of intraplate alkaline type (alkali basalts, basanites, El Koudiate, Habri, Hebri, Bou Tagarouine, Tabourite,
nephelinites, and associated intermediate and evolved Tamarrakoït) is clearly oblique with respect to the main re-
lavas), while in the Rif it evolved through time from calc-al- gional faults which trend N040oE (Tizi n’Trettène) to
kaline to shoshonitic and finally alkaline magmas N050oE (North Middle Atlas Fault) [Charrière, 1990]. The
[Hernandez and Bellon, 1985; Hernandez et al., 1987; El volcanic cover is nearly continuous in the central part of the
Bakkali et al., 1998, El Azzouzi et al., 1999, 2003; Maury chain, between Azrou and Timahdite, where large lava
et al., 2000]. It is located within a SW-NE trending volcanic fields flank the volcanic axis. Three important volcanic
strip (fig. 1, inset), underlain by thinned lithosphere structures are located away from this central part (fig 1): the
[Missenard et al., 2006], which crosscuts the major tectonic J. Tamarrakoït in the south, and the El Koudiate and Outgui
structures of central Morocco. This trend extends from the strombolian cones in the north. The pahoehoe lava flows
Siroua stratovolcano in the Anti-Atlas to the Mediterranean emitted from the Outgui cone poured out over the Quater-
coast near Oujda (6.2 to 1.5 Ma [Andries and Bellon, 1989; nary deposits of the Saïs plain close to Meknès. A number
El Azzouzi et al., 1999]) and the Oran area in Algeria (4 to of small to very small volcanic edifices occur in the periph-
0.8 Ma [Coulon et al., 2002]). It may be considered as a hot ery of the main volcanic zone: Ariana and Tamahrart, W of
line [Frizon de Lamotte et al., 2008]. According to avail- El Koudiate, Ouaoussenfacht, E of El Koudiate, Lougnina
able K-Ar ages [Harmand and Cantagrel, 1984; Berrahma, and Am Laraïs, SE of Tamarrakoït, and Tabourite and Si
1995; Rachdi, 1995; El Azzouzi et al., 1999], this volca- Mguid, W of Timahdite village. Most of them are made of
nism was emplaced from the Middle Miocene to the Quater- an ash and cinder cone and one (or a few) short lava flow(s)
nary (14.6 to 0.3 Ma). However, dykes and sills of emitted from its crater.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


PETROLOGY AND K-AR CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEOGENE-QUATERNARY MIDDLE ATLAS, MOROCCO 245

TABLE I. – Whole-rock 40K-40Ar datings of Middle Atlas lavas. Instruments and laboratory analytical methods discussed in the text.
TABL. I. – Datations 40K-40Ar sur roches totales des laves du Moyen Atlas. Les équipements et méthodes analytiques sont décrites dans le texte.

Altitude Mean age Age ± error 40


ArR 40
ArR 36Arexp Weight K2 O Ref.
Sample Rock type Location
(m) in Ma ± 1␴ (Ma) at 1␴ (10-7 cm3/g) (%) (10-9 cm3) (g) (wt.%) analysis
MA522 Timahdite (5°02'W - 33°14'N) 1870 0.67 ± 0.09 0.36 7.2 0.96 0.6151 1.68 B7238-7
AZ 21 5 km WSW of Michlifene ski station 1910 0.75 ± 0.05 0.72 ± 0.03 0.37 18.9 0.89 1.0087 1.62 B 4057-5
(5°07'W - 33°21'N) 0.78 ± 0.05 0.40 14.9 0.98 0.8062 B 4058-6
AZ 25 Jbel Tahabrit (5°08'W - 33°18'N) 1930 0.76 ± 0.07 0.39 9.2 1.40 0.8077 1.60 B 4377-4
MA414 Ifri ou Berid (5°14'W - 33°15'N) 1890 2.33 ± 0.10 1.36 22.7 1.58 1.0064 1.82 B 6867-7
MA514 Oued Soltane (4°45'W - 33°36'N) 1460 3.90 ± 0.11 2.17 41.1 1.05 0.9994 1.72 B 6975-6
MA513 8 km ESE of Annoceur (4°47'W - 33°37'N) 1410 3.92 ± 0.22 1.57 16.7 1.58 0.5979 1.24 B 7016-4
Nephelinites
MA524 Bekrite road (5°02'W - 33°06'N) 1990 5.87 ± 0.16 3.44 44 0.92 0.6092 1.84 B7239-8
MA530 Tabourite flow (5°14'W - 33°10'N) 2030 14.08 ± 1.31 3.78 10.2 11.47 0.5830 0.83 B 7060-9
MA531 Si Mguid (5°15'W - 33°11'N) 2030 14.72 ± 1.01 13.81 ± 0.65 5.05 20.6 3.85 0.5830 1.13 B 7061-10
15.63 ± 1.01 5.72 14.6 5.59 0.4934 B7230-10
MA428 Tasfaït (5°01'W - 32°46'N) 1590 15.38 ± 0.38 5.63 56.2 1.49 1.0023 1.13 B 6871-4
MA401 Ariana flow (5°15'W - 33°30'N) 1450 15.62 ± 0.40 6.82 52.6 1.43 0.6900 1.35 B 7105-4
MA427 Tasfaït (5°01'W - 32°46'N) 1570 16.25 ± 0.39 7.42 63.5 1.45 1.0021 1.41 B 6872-5
MA406 Am Laraïs flow (4°52'W - 33°00'N) 1580 1.56 ± 0.08 0.95 17.6 1.05 0.6989 1.89 B 7107-6
MA421 Bekrite flow (5°12'W - 33°04'N) 1890 1.65 ± 0.08 0.75 20.8 0.97 0.6989 1.42 B 7120-9
MA407 Lougnina (4°51'W - 33°00'N) 1600 2.28 ± 0.13 2.25 ± 0.09 1.05 25.3 1.06 1.0073 1.45 B 6866-6
Basanites
2.31 ± 0.13 1.08 17.4 1.41 0.8105 B 6849-3
MA528 Lechmine Bou Itguel (5°07'W - 33°11'N) 1900 2.36 ± 0.29 0.99 7.8 3.97 0.9892 1.30 B 7064-3
MA542 Chiker Ali (5°06'W - 33°10'N) 1960 2.36 ± 0.19 0.80 11.8 1.22 0.6021 1.05 B 7125-4
AZ 31 Foum Khenag (5°03'W - 33°07'N) 1900 0.60 ± 0.07 0.25 7.0 1.25 0.8012 1.30 B 4378-5
AZ 30 2 km S of Timahdite (5°02'W - 33°11'N) 1840 0.85 ± 0.07 0.37 9.3 1.59 1.0026 1.38 B 4067-2
MA505 Aït Amar (5°11'W - 33°39'N) 1240 0.89 ± 0.31 0.25 2.8 2.97 0.9995 0.87 B 6969-2
AZ 17 Sidi Belghit (5°8'W - 33°51'N) 720 0.93 ± 0.10 0.88 ± 0.09 0.20 8.6 1.08 1.0009 0.71 B 4072-4
0.99 ± 0.10 0.23 8.7 1.16 1.0050 B 4068-3
MA502 Bouderbala - O. Tizguite (5°15'W - 33°49'N) 740 1.32 ± 0.39 0.55 3.3 5.36 1.0008 1.28 B 6968-1
MA412 Alkali basalts Azrou - Mrirt (5°24'W - 33°21'N) 1090 2.19 ± 0.18 0.74 12.3 1.25 0.6981 0.83 B 7109-8
MA405 Aguelmane Sidi Ali flow (4°59'W - 33°04'N) 2090 2.27 ± 0.13 0.87 61.8 0.99 0.7028 1.19 B 7106-5
MA521 8 SW of Aït Hamza (4°57'W - 33°17'N) 1630 2.41 ± 0.28 0.84 8.2 1.66 0.5205 1.09 B 7136-4
MA415 Azrou plateau (5°13'W - 33°17'N) 1840 2.55 ± 0.07 0.87 46.4 0.24 0.7004 1.06 B 7111-10
MA520 Aït Hamza (4°53'W - 33°20'N) 1530 2.58 ± 0.12 0.80 21.2 0.70 0.6981 0.96 B 7121-10
MA426 NNE Bou Angar (5°01'W - 33°07'N) 1960 2.74 ± 0.18 1.08 14.4 1.30 0.5929 1.22 B 7124-3
MA409 Bou-Jirirh (5°08'W - 33°30'N) 1680 3.77 ± 0.20 1.52 17.9 2.37 1.0058 1.25 B 6864-4
AZ19 El Koudiate (5°18'W - 33°23'N) 1670 1.11 ± 0.68 0.58 1.6 7.21 0.5948 1.64 B 7123-2
MA408 El Koudiate (5°10'W - 33°13'N) 1600 1.14 ± 0.11 0.60 9.7 1.16 0.6983 1.44 B 7108-7
CD 2B Subalkaline basalts El Koudiate (5°20'W - 33°21'N) 1630 1.39 ± 0.12 0.55 9.8 1.71 0.8002 1.23 B 4107-3
MA506 Sidi Aït Abdesslame (5°08'W - 33°34'N) 1470 2.81 ± 0.22 2.76 ± 0.22 1.01 11.9 1.36 0.5435 1.13 B 7139-7
2.86 ± 0.15 1.04 17.8 1.63 0.9959 B 6974-5

Four types of mafic lavas have been distinguished ac- and the west (Oued Tigrigra valley) of the main volcanic
cording to the geochemical and petrographic features of the axis. They also form the large northern cone of Outgui.
103 collected samples, which will be discussed below. 4– Finally, subalkaline basalts richer in silica than the
1– Nephelinites (37 wt% < SiO2 < 41 wt%) usually former types (SiO2 = 52 wt%) compose the El Koudiate
form small strombolian cones and associated lava flows lo- cone and associated 20 km long flows (4% of our sample
cated along the borders of the volcanic plateau. Although set and 7.8% of the surface of the volcanic field).
they represent ca. 20% of our sampling, they cover only
1.2% of the total surface of volcanic units.
According to published ages [Harmand and Cantagrel,
2– Basanites (42 wt% < SiO2 < 45 wt%), which repre- 1984; El Azzouzi et al., 1999], the Miocene volcanic events
sent 30% of our sample set, form most of the well preserved emplaced only nephelinites in the Middle Atlas, from
cones located between Azrou and Itzère. The lava flows 14.6 Ma (Bekrite) to 10.6 Ma (Talzast) (fig. 1B). Nephelinites
emitted from them cover 22.5% of the surface of the volca- also erupted during the Quaternary, around 1.6 Ma
nic field, and generally overlie the alkali basaltic flows. (J. Tourguejid) and 0.75 Ma (J. Tahabrit). Alkali and
3– Mildly silica-undersaturated alkali basalts subalkaline basalts as well as basanites seem exclusively
(47 wt% < SiO2 < 51 wt%, less than 5 wt% normative neph- emplaced during the Plio-Quaternary, and the youngest pub-
eline) represent the dominant petrographic type (46% of our lished ages (fig. 1B) were measured on basanites (0.8 Ma at
sampling). Their pahoehoe lava flows cover 68.5% of the J. Tahabrit, 0.6 Ma at J. Am Laraïs, 0.5 Ma at J. Aït el Haj
plateau surface, especially to the east (Oued Guigou valley) [Harmand and Cantagrel, 1984]).

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


246 EL AZZOUZI M. et al.

A
FIG. 1. – Petrologic map of Middle Atlas volcanic units. A: map showing the location of analysed samples and the distribution of the four petrographic types.
B: map showing the location and ages of K-Ar dated samples (table I) together with previous K-Ar ages taken from Harmand and Cantagrel [1984] and Mo-
rel and Bellon [1996]. Inset: Main tectonic structures of Morocco, location of the Middle Atlas and distribution of Neogene and Quaternary volcanism.
FIG. 1. – Carte pétrologique des ensembles volcaniques du Moyen Atlas. A : position des échantillons étudiés et répartition des types pétrographiques.
B : position et âges K-Ar des laves d’après cette étude (tabl. I) et les données antérieurement publiées par Harmand et Cantagrel [1984] et Morel et Bel-
lon [1996]. En cartouche : grandes structures tectoniques du Maroc, localisation du Moyen Atlas et répartition du volcanisme néogène et quaternaire ma-
rocain.
Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3
PETROLOGY AND K-AR CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEOGENE-QUATERNARY MIDDLE ATLAS, MOROCCO 247

B
Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3
248 EL AZZOUZI M. et al.

K-Ar geochronology Petrographic characteristics and mineral compositions


The four lava types are moderately porphyritic, with 10 to
K-Ar datings were carried out on whole-rock lava samples. 20 modal % phenocrysts mainly consisting in idiomorphic
Results are listed in table I. After crushing and sieving, the 1 to 5 mm large olivine containing chromiferous spinel in-
0.30 to 0.15 mm in size fraction was cleaned with distilled clusions, and clinopyroxene in lesser amounts. Calcic
water and then retained for analysis: (i) one aliquot was plagioclase sometimes occurs as phenocryst or micro-
powdered in an agate grinder for K analysis by atomic ab- phenocryst, but is replaced as such by nepheline in the
sorption after HF chemical attack, and (ii) 0.30 to 0.15 mm nephelinites. The groundmass is usually holocrystalline and
grains were used for argon isotopic ratios measurements. microlitic, with dominant plagioclase laths (except in
Argon extraction was performed under high vacuum by in- nephelinites) associated with clinopyroxene, olivine and
duction heating of a molybdenum crucible. Extracted gases titanomagnetite grains. Ilmenite is also usually present in
were cleaned on two titanium sponge furnaces and finally the groundmass, except in nephelinites. All the lava types
purified by using two Al-Zr SAES getters. Ar isotopic com- may contain occasional quartz-rich xenoliths from the base-
position and radiogenic 40Ar concentration were measured ment. These xenoliths are especially abundant in the El
using a 180o geometry stainless steel mass spectrometer Koudiate subalkaline basalts, in which several quartz xeno-
equipped with a 643 Keithley amplifier. The isotopic dilu- crysts mantled by clinopyroxene reaction rims are usually
tion method was applied using a 38Ar spike buried as ions in found in a single thin section. Basanites often contain xeno-
aluminum targets, following the procedure described by crysts of mantle olivine, pyroxenes and spinel from frag-
Bellon et al. [1981]. Ages are calculated using the constants mented peridotite nodules. For instance, up to 5 mm large
recommended by Steiger and Jäger [1977] and ± 1␴ errors kinked forsterite crystals mantled by clinopyroxene rims are
are calculated following the equation of Cox and Dalrymple rather common in these rocks.
[1967]. The ages of dated samples containing less than
El Koudiate subalkaline basalts contain 10-15 modal %
2.10-9 cc of 36Ar, released during the gases extraction by
phenocrysts, with olivine (6-8%) dominating over
high frequency heating under vacuum, were considered sat-
clinopyroxene (3-5%) and plagioclase (up to 4%). These
isfactory. Experiments performed on a few samples (AZ 19;
phenocrysts often cluster in glomeroporphyritic aggregates.
MA 502; MA 505; MA 528; MA 530; MA 521) show larger
Many alkali basalts and basanites contain idiomorphic oliv-
to very high 36Ar atmospheric contamination (column 36Ar
ine as single phenocryst (8 to 15 modal %), while in others
in table I) and the corresponding ages show larger errors
it is accompanied by calcic clinopyroxene (up to 8%), and,
(10 to 50% of the age) and so must be used with more cau-
in a few alkali basalts, by plagioclase microphenocrysts (up
tion. The whole set of new ages ranges from 16.25 Ma to
to 4%). Phenocryst clusters are common in these rocks,
0.60 Ma (table I and fig. 1B).
the groundmass of which contains plagioclase laths,
clinopyroxene, olivine, titanomagnetite, ilmenite, together
with interstitial alkali feldspar and, in basanites, interstitial
PETROLOGIC AND GEOCHEMICAL DATA nepheline and/or analcite. Nephelinites are feldspar-free;
their phenocryst assemblage includes zoned brown calcic
clinopyroxene (4 to 15 modal %) and usually subordinate
Major and trace element data were obtained on 103 samples olivine (4 to 8 modal %). Nepheline occurs both as micro-
by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectro- phenocrysts (up to 5%) and in the groundmass as amiboid
metry (ICP-AES). The samples were powdered in an agate
grinder. International standards were used for calibrations
tests (ACE, BEN, JB-2, PM-S and WS-E). Rb was mea-
sured by flame emission spectroscopy. Relative standard de-
viations are ± 1% for SiO2 and ± 2% for other major
elements except P2O5 and MnO [± 0.01%], and ca. 5% for
trace elements. The analytical techniques are described in de-
tail by Cotten et al. [1995]. The chemical analyses of se-
lected representative lavas are listed in table II. All the
samples studied are mafic, with SiO2 < 52.5 wt% and MgO >
6 wt%. Intermediate and evolved compositions are lacking
(fig. 2 and table II), a feature which contrasts with other At-
las system volcanic fields (Oulmès, Siroua and Sarhro). The
four petrographic types of mafic lavas are easily distin-
guished using the total alkalies versus silica (TAS) [Le Bas
et al., 1986] plot of figure 2, in which they do not overlap.
In this plot, silica-saturated El Koudiate basalts straddle the
limit between basalts and basaltic andesites. They will be
named subalkaline basalts because they fulfill the criterions
set up for this type of rock by Irvine and Baragar [1971], FIG. 2. – Total alkalies versus silica plot (TAS) [Le Bas et al., 1986] for
Middle Atlas lavas from this study only. Empty squares: nephelinites;
Middlemost [1975] and Miyashiro [1978]. The rough nega- black triangles: basanites; empty triangles: alkali basalts; empty circles:
tive correlation between total alkalies and silica contents subalkaline basalts.
observed in figure 2 is typical of intraplate basaltic associa- FIG. 2. – Position des laves du Moyen Atlas (cette étude) dans le dia-
gramme (Na2O+K2O)-SiO2 [Le Bas et al., 1986]. Carrés vides : néphéli-
tions showing large variations in alkalinity [Miyashiro, nites ; triangles pleins : basanites ; triangles vides : basaltes alcalins ;
1978]. cercles vides : basaltes subalcalins.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


PETROLOGY AND K-AR CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEOGENE-QUATERNARY MIDDLE ATLAS, MOROCCO 249

patches, which embay clinopyroxene, olivine and Villemant et al., 1981]. Subalkaline basalts contain less
titanomagnetite grains. Melilite was not found in these MgO (6-7 wt%) and compatible trace elements than the
lavas during the present study, but this mineral was identi- other types (table II). All the studied lavas are Ti-rich (TiO2
fied in the Bekrite nephelinite [Harmand and Cantagrel, = 2-3 wt%), sodic (Na2O/K2O > 2) and range from silica-
1984]. saturated (subalkaline basalts) to strongly silica-
Mineral analyses were obtained using a Cameca SX 50 undersaturated (nephelinites). They display the usual major
electron microprobe (Microsonde Ouest, Brest) in the fol- element features of intraplate ocean island basalts (OIB)
lowing conditions: 15 kV, 10-12 nA, counting time 6 s. The and their equivalents from continental rifts and hotspot
analytical procedure, errors and detection limits are de- provinces.
scribed by Defant et al. [1991]. A summary of mineral com- Incompatible element patterns (fig. 3) are clearly en-
positions is given in table III. Olivine phenocryst cores riched in the most incompatible elements. Rare earth ele-
display rather constant compositions (Fo up to 85%) what- ments (REE) display typical fan-shaped patterns (fig. 3a),
ever the petrographic type, while their rims and the with light REE (LREE) contents increasing progressively
groundmass crystals are more Fe-rich. In contrast, the com- from subalkaline basalts to alkali basalts, basanites and
positions of calcic clinopyroxene cores vary according to finally nephelinites where they reach 600 to 800 times the
the degree of silica-undersaturation of the host lavas chondritic value. Incompatible multielement patterns
(table III): they are diopsidic (and Al- and Ti-rich) in (fig. 3b) are also very characteristic, with regular increase
nephelinites and basanites, and augitic (and more sil- from Yb to La, strong downward anomalies in K, and rela-
ica-rich) in alkali basalts and subalkaline basalts, in which tive depletion in Rb and Ba with respect to Th and Nb. The
they become also more iron-rich. Plagioclase cores progres- concentrations of all the incompatible elements except Rb
sively become less calcic from basanites (labradorite) to- and K tend to increase progressively from subalkaline bas-
ward alkali basalts (labradorite-andesine) and subalkaline alts to nephelinites. However, the shapes of the subalkaline
basalts (andesine). basalt patterns differ from others by their relative lack of
depletion in K and Rb and their lower Nb contents.
Major and trace element features
Alkali basalts, basanites and nephelinites are generally Mg-rich DISCUSSION
(8 wt% < MgO < 13 wt%), and with a few exceptions their
compatible transition element contents (45 ppm < Co < 60 ppm;
Spatial and temporal distribution of magmatic types
150 ppm < Ni < 500 ppm; 250 ppm < Cr < 600 ppm), match
those of primitive basalts in near-equilibrium with a Figure 1 shows that subalkaline basalts (El Koudiate) and
lherzolitic mantle source [Allègre et al., 1977; Sato, 1977; alkali basalts were only emitted along the main axis of the

TABLE II. – Major (wt%) and trace element (ppm) analyses of Middle Atlas lavas. ICP-AES analyses, Brest. Total iron expressed as Fe2O3; LOI : loss on
ignition at 1050oC. Analytical methods described in the text.
TABL. II. – Analyses d’éléments majeurs (% massiques) et en traces (ppm) des laves du Moyen Atlas. Analyses ICP-AES, Brest. Fer total exprimé en
Fe2O3 ; LOI : perte au feu à 1050 oC ; Méthodes analytiques décrites dans le texte.
Samples MA422 MA531 MA427 MA428 MA414 MA401 MA429 MA406 MA539 MA420 MA402 MA526 MA528 MA523 MA411 MA535 MA511 MA519 MA505 MA408 MA506
Rock type Nephelinites Basanites Alkali basalts Subalkaline basalts
SiO2 (wt%) 37.50 37.95 38.30 38.40 40.50 40.60 42.50 42.60 42.70 42.80 43.50 43.90 44.40 47.25 47.50 48.80 49.40 49.80 50.50 52.00 52.00
TiO 2 2.76 2.75 2.87 2.87 3.29 2.98 2.92 2.91 2.58 2.77 2.82 2.57 2.43 2.29 2.37 2.23 2.19 2.05 2.11 2.15 2.18
Al2O3 11.32 12.20 12.15 12.30 11.82 11.60 11.94 12.65 12.70 13.05 12.84 12.95 12.90 13.50 13.55 13.90 13.88 14.00 13.86 14.66 14.43
Fe2O3* 11.65 11.70 12.00 11.95 13.55 13.40 13.45 12.50 13.00 12.75 13.35 12.58 12.35 11.66 11.45 11.65 11.64 11.55 11.20 10.40 10.60
MnO 0.19 0.21 0.21 0.21 0.23 0.20 0.22 0.19 0.21 0.19 0.20 0.18 0.18 0.17 0.18 0.17 0.17 0.16 0.16 0.15 0.15
MgO 12.65 11.18 10.05 9.78 10.00 12.30 10.75 11.25 10.85 10.90 10.50 11.42 10.68 9.41 8.95 8.92 8.62 8.68 7.79 6.80 6.76
CaO 15.00 16.00 15.10 15.25 11.60 12.50 12.20 11.00 11.00 11.40 10.90 10.80 10.70 10.10 10.40 8.90 9.60 9.00 9.25 8.40 8.75
Na2O 2.80 3.46 3.52 3.83 5.20 3.30 2.51 3.75 3.15 3.05 3.68 3.16 3.12 3.40 3.35 3.03 3.15 3.23 3.11 3.30 3.15
K2 O 1.60 1.21 1.42 1.18 1.78 1.43 1.16 1.91 1.48 1.15 1.35 1.52 1.42 1.23 1.26 1.06 1.03 0.83 0.87 1.24 1.24
P 2 O5 1.62 1.53 1.85 1.80 1.15 1.12 1.13 0.94 1.04 0.86 0.80 0.69 0.78 0.58 0.69 0.52 0.52 0.42 0.45 0.40 0.42
LOI 2.27 1.27 1.48 1.86 0.37 -0.05 0.78 0.13 0.95 0.97 -0.33 0.05 0.62 0.04 0.24 0.20 -0.53 -0.38 0.24 -0.17 0.29
Total 99.36 99.46 98.95 99.43 99.49 99.38 99.56 99.83 99.66 99.89 99.61 99.82 99.58 99.63 99.94 99.38 99.67 99.34 99.54 99.33 99.97
Rb (ppm) 42 37 31 23 57 38 24 48 38 43 30 36 36 29 30 24 19.8 17 22 35 37
Sr 1560 1360 1820 1800 1410 1125 1575 1105 1200 1030 1040 930 870 835 995 670 692 607 572 573 565
Ba 1100 894 990 1100 810 632 890 690 850 625 528 565 552 430 470 395 328 248 335 330 336
Sc 27 29 28 28 22 25 21 22 21 23.5 20.5 22 22 21 20 21 21 20 21 20 20
V 289 295 325 315 250 270 236 235 220 232 224 220 219 190 190 185 183 172 172 180 181
Cr 475 269 235 235 300 412 295 330 360 292 276 366 354 313 305 312 315 312 320 220 246
Co 50 46 45 44 49 57 53 50 54 52 52 54 53 50 46 48 49 47 49 38 40
Ni 220 164 124 129 175 286 216 200 242 212 209 240 238 210 172 190 187 200 188 108 125
Y 29.5 32.5 34.5 33.5 35.5 29.0 37.5 27.5 30.0 28.0 27.5 26.5 27.0 25.0 27.5 26.0 25.0 23.6 23.8 24.0 24.0
Zr 278 327 355 345 430 305 355 260 275 255 252 226 225 205 218 188 180 166 172 188 185
Nb 125 143 145 142 130 91 122 93 92 84 85 74 65 77 95 68 65 37 35 39 37
La 127 107 145 140 96 80 115 74 83 67 66 53.5 55 48.5 55.5 40 36 32 30 32 30.5
Ce 209 195 240 240 183 150 213 140 148 120 126 102 101 93 111 79 75 63 60 65 62
Nd 81 78 94 91 84 63 94 58 62 55 55 47 47 42 49 40 38 31 30 31 32
Sm 13.0 13.0 14.6 14.2 14.5 11.7 16.0 10.7 11.0 9.9 10.1 8.9 8.9 8.1 9.6 7.7 7.6 6.5 6.3 6.8 6.8
Eu 3.61 3.70 4.12 3.92 4.25 3.32 4.46 3.20 3.27 3.05 3.10 2.77 2.67 2.50 2.92 2.42 2.36 2.12 2.05 2.10 2.06
Gd 9.3 9.5 10.8 10.7 11.3 9.0 12.0 8.3 8.5 8 8.2 7.5 7.1 6.9 7.7 6.9 6.7 6.3 6.3 6.2 6.0
Dy 6.0 6.4 6.9 6.8 7.5 6.0 7.9 5.7 5.9 5.7 5.7 5.4 5.3 4.9 5.6 5.1 5.0 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.7
Er 2.6 2.7 3.0 3.0 3.1 2.7 3.2 2.5 2.4 2.5 2.5 2.2 2.3 2.2 2.4 2.2 2.1 2.0 2.1 2.0 2.2
Yb 2.00 2.36 2.48 2.50 2.45 1.98 2.38 1.96 2.01 1.97 1.85 1.74 1.82 1.78 1.88 1.83 1.78 1.71 1.76 1.74 1.79
Th 13.5 10.9 17.1 16.8 10.4 9.0 11.6 8.8 9.2 7.5 6.6 5.9 6.1 5.3 5.5 4.1 3.5 3.2 4.0 4.8 4.5

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250 EL AZZOUZI M. et al.

volcanic chain, from Outgui to Timahdite. Basanitic flows, contents in the compatible transition elements Co, Ni and
which generally overlie alkali basaltic flows, were also Cr (fig. 5c, d), indicate a limited role of fractionation pro-
mostly emitted along this axis, from J. Habri to J. cesses. Positive correlations between highly incompatible
Tamarrakoït. However, even if minor in terms of lava vol- trace elements (e.g. between La and Th and Nb and Th; fig.
ume, several basanitic eruptions occurred in the periphery 6a, 6b) might recall fractionation effects. However, Th con-
of the province (Tourguejid, Am Laraïs, Lougnina, tents are negatively correlated with SiO2 (fig. 5a). The most
Ouaoussenfacht). Nephelinites are scattered over the whole incompatible element-rich lavas are indeed the nephelinites,
volcanic area. They occur in the central part of chain close which are less silica-rich (fig. 5a) and more magnesian
to J. Hebri, but also at its periphery, especially east of (fig. 5b) than the volumetrically dominant alkali basalts (ta-
Annoceur, north of Azrou (Ariana, Tamahrart), west of ble II), and therefore can hardly derive from the fractional
Timahdite (Ifri ou Bérid, Si Mguid), south of Bekrite and in crystallization of such magmas. The scatter observed for
Tasfaït. MgO, Co and Cr in figure 5 plots suggests, however, minor
The temporal distribution of volcanic types, shown in accumulation/fractionation effects involving olivine and clino-
figure 4 with corresponding analytical errors, is rather sim- pyroxene, consistent with the variable phenocryst modal
ple. According to our new data, nephelinites were the only contents of the studied lavas. These effects are partly over-
magmatic type emplaced during the Middle Miocene printed by the incorporation of variable amounts of xeno-
(16.5-14 Ma), along a N170o trend from Si Mguid to crysts from fragmented mantle peridotite nodules (especially
Tasfaït. Harmand and Cantagrel [1984] measured two youn- in some basanites).
ger (late Miocene) K-Ar ages for Azougouarh (11.5 ± El Koudiate subalkaline basalts are silica-saturated,
1.0 Ma) and Talzast (10.6 ± 0.5 Ma) nephelinites (fig. 1B), more silica-rich and slightly depleted in MgO and in both
and we have obtained another one (5.87 ± 0.16 Ma) near compatible and incompatible elements with respect to the
Bekrite (table I). Taken together, these three results strongly other types (fig. 3 and 5). They display obvious petrographic
support the occurrence of a “nephelinite event” at the end of evidence for contamination by silica-rich upper continental
the Miocene. These lavas erupted again sporadically during crust (abundant quartz xenocrysts), a process, which may be
the Middle to Late Pliocene (3.9-2.3 Ma) east of Annoceur,
and finally during the Quaternary (ca. 0.7 Ma) in the central
part of the main volcanic axis (fig. 1B). Older (Eocene)
nephelinites are also known to occur in the Middle Atlas
(Zebzate), High Atlas (Tamazert) and Rekkam.
Basanites (2.36-2.28 Ma and 1.56 Ma), alkali basalts
(3.77 Ma; 2.74-2.19 Ma; 1.67 Ma, and finally 0.93-0.6 Ma)
and subalkaline basalts (2.81 Ma and 1.39-1.11 Ma) were
exclusively emplaced during the Pliocene and the Quater-
nary. Our new data (fig. 4) suggest that a first event oc-
curred in the Middle Atlas Province from 3.92 ± 0.22 to
3.77 ± 0.20 Ma, emplacing nephelinites and alkali basalts.
It was followed by an apparent magmatic gap between ca.
3.5 and 3.0 Ma. Volcanic activity resumed at 3.0 Ma, with
more or less concomitant eruption of the four lava types un-
til 0.7-0.6 Ma (fig. 4). According to Harmand and Cantagrel
[1984], it also emplaced young basanitic flows (0.8 Ma at
J. Tahabrit) and alkali basalts dated at 0.5 Ma at J. Aït el
Haj and at 0.6 Ma at the northwestern extremity of J. Am
Laraïs. This volcanic phase may have ended very recently,
taking into account the well-preserved landforms of numer-
ous strombolian cones and maars and of the surface features
of pahoehoe lava flows. According to mapping relationships
(fig. 1A), most basanitic flows are younger than the alkali
basaltic flows that they usually overlie. However, the gen-
eral pattern suggests that small blobs of mafic magmas with
contrasted compositions ascended separately along a deep
N160-170oE trending fault system. The concomitant erup-
tion of the four mafic lava types, their “primitive” composi-
tions and the absence of intermediate or evolved lavas
suggest the lack of a large magma reservoir beneath the axis
of the volcanic chain.

Lava compositions: roles of fractional crystallization FIG. 3. – Normalized rare earth element and multi-element patterns of se-
and crustal contamination lected Middle Atlas lavas. Chondrite and primitive mantle compositions
are from Sun and McDonough [1989]. Symbols as in figure 2.
The lack of intermediate and evolved lavas in the Middle FIG. 3. – Diagrammes de terres rares et multi-élémentaires normalisés aux
chondrites et manteau primitif, respectivement [Sun et McDonough, 1989]
Atlas series, as well as the Mg-rich compositions (MgO = de laves représentatives du Moyen Atlas. Symboles identiques à ceux de la
13-6 wt%) of our samples (fig. 5b) and their usually high figure 2.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


PETROLOGY AND K-AR CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEOGENE-QUATERNARY MIDDLE ATLAS, MOROCCO 251

responsible for their specific chemical features. Their trace Partial melting rates, depths of melting and source
element contents, which are generally ca. 10% lower than heterogeneity
those of alkali basalts, can mainly be explained by a simple
“dilution” process involving addition of silica to a magma The Mg-rich character and the high contents in compatible
of average alkali basaltic composition. In addition, the transition elements (Cr, Co, Ni) of most of the Middle Atlas
shapes of their multielement patterns (fig. 3b) are different alkali basalts, basanites and nephelinites (fig. 5) suggest
from those of the other types. Indeed, with respect to alkali that they were derived from the partial melting of a
basalts, they are much more depleted in Nb, less depleted in peridotitic source [Sato, 1977]. Their geochemical signa-
Th, K and Zr, and even enriched in Rb. These specific fea- tures are typically intraplate alkaline, and hardly distin-
tures are consistent with an upper crustal contamination guishable from those of ocean island alkali basalts and
process, as the above elements display either positive (Rb, related rocks. The progressive enrichment in the most in-
Th, K, Zr) or negative (Nb) anomalies in the upper conti- compatible elements observed from alkali basalts to
nental crust with respect to mantle-derived materials nephelinites, and illustrated by the fan-shaped REE and
[Hofmann, 1988]. Therefore, the El Koudiate subalkaline multi-element patterns (fig. 3), is consistent with decreasing
basalts probably derive from alkali basalt magmas contami- degrees of partial melting of an enriched mantle source
nated by upper continental crust during their ascent. This [Caroff et al., 1997]. Correlations between incompatible el-
process may have occurred during the crystallization of ement concentrations and ratios are shown in figure 6.
their augite and plagioclase phenocrysts, which are slightly Highly incompatible elements (e.g. Th and La, fig. 6a) dis-
more silica-rich (and calcium-poor) than those from alkali play positive linear correlations, while elements of slightly
basalts (table III). different incompatibility (fig. 6b) show curvilinear trends as

TABLE III. – Summary of mineral compositions for the four petrographic types of the Middle Atlas lavas (cores and rims of phenocrysts and groundmass).
Compositions expressed as molar % of forsterite (Fo), wollastonite (Wo), enstatite (En), ferrosilite (Fs), albite (Ab), anorthite (An), orthoclase (Or), ne-
pheline (Ne), kalsilite (Ks) and ulvöspinel (Usp).
TABL. III. – Résumé des compositions des minéraux des 4 types pétrographiques de laves du Moyen Atlas.

% Nephelinites Basanites Alkali basalts Subalkaline basalts


Core Fo 86.0 - 83.5 89.7 - 85.4 84.8 - 64.6 84.7 - 65.9
Olivines

Phenocrysts
Rim Fo 84.6 - 80.8 84.7 - 69.3 81.4 - 58.6 73.8 - 70.4
Groundmass crystals Groundmass Fo 84.1 - 70.2 85.5 - 82.4 79.3 - 48.5 75.5 - 73.2
Wo 52.7 - 47.9 49.9 - 47.8 43.2 - 43.1 43.0 - 37.1
Core En 42.9 - 33.7 44.5 - 38.7 44.4 - 43.0 46.7 - 45.2
Fs 13.6 - 8.7 11.9 - 7.3 17.5 - 13.9 17.6 - 11.0
Clinopyroxenes

Phenocrysts
Wo 51.5 - 49.1 52.6 - 50.2 44.0 - 43.4 43.5 - 32.2
Rim En 40.9 - 35.2 37.2 - 32.3 46.7 - 45.1 47.0 - 45.8
Fs 13.6 - 9.7 17.9 - 12.1 42.7 - 9.3 20.84- 11.5
Wo 53.1 - 48.2 50.9 - 47.2 42.7 - 41.1 41.0 - 39.1
Groundmass crystals Groundmass En 41.0 - 35.2 41.2 - 35.2 46.4 - 38.9 49.4 - 44.4
Fs 15.3 - 9.7 15.1 - 10.8 18.3 - 12.1 25.8 - 10.6
Ab 67.3 - 48.9 43.9 - 39.0 40.2 - 34.2
Core An 49.9 - 29.3 60.3 - 55.3 65.2 - 59.2
Or 3.5 - 1.2 1.0 - 0.7 0.8 - 0.6
Phenocrysts
Plagioclases

Ab 44.5 - 41.4 62.1 - 44.7


Rim An 57.8 - 54.6 54.2 - 35.7
Or 1.2 - 0.8 2.2 - 1.1
Ab 74.8 - 41.3 50.6 - 48.1
Groundmass crystals Groundmass An 62.6 - 26.0 50.7 - 47.8
Or 20.3 - 1.0 1.6 - 0.9
Ne 96.1 - 71.3 99.6 - 80.7
Core
Ks 28.7- 2.3 19.3 - 0.4
Nephelines

Phenocrysts
Ne
Rim
Ks
Ne 97.8 - 83.5
Groundmass crystals Groundmass
Ks 16.5 - 2.2
Titanomagnetites

Groundmass crystals Groundmass Usp 49.5 - 43.4 70.1 - 18.8 33.7 - 29.2 25.7 - 23.9

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


252 EL AZZOUZI M. et al.

It has been suggested that variable extents of mantle


metasomatism by silicate melts might account for such vari-
ations of highly incompatible element ratios in OIB-type
basalts [Menzies et al., 1987; Ionov and Hofmann, 1995;
Pilet et al., 2005]. In figure 8, Middle Atlas basalts are plot-
ted in a La/Yb versus Yb diagram, together with trends of
non-modal melting of a LREE-enriched lherzolitic source
whose mineralogy varies from pure spinel lherzolite to pure
garnet lherzolite [Luhr et al., 1995]. With the exception of a

FIG. 4. – Plot of whole rock K-Ar ages for Middle Atlas lavas against their
SiO2 contents (wt%). Symbols as in figure 2. Vertical bars show the analy-
tical errors (± 1␴). Age data from table I and Morel and Bellon [1996].
FIG. 4. – Variation des âges K-Ar (mesurés sur roches totales) des laves du
Moyen Atlas en fonction de leurs teneurs en SiO2 (% massiques). Symboles
identiques à ceux de la figure 2. Les barres verticales indiquent les incerti-
tudes analytiques (± 1 ). Données d’âge d’après le tableau I et Morel et
Bellon [1996].

predicted by partial melting laws for variable partial melt-


ing degrees of a given source [Shaw, 1970]. The same pro-
cess can account for the linear positive correlation between
Th/Yb ratio and Th contents shown in figure 6c [Joron and
Treuil, 1977, 1989]. However, according to the same au-
thors, the different slopes of the correlations observed in the
Th/La versus Th plot (fig. 6d) for the alkali and subalkaline
basalts, the basanites and the nephelinites indicate that they
derive from chemically heterogeneous sources character-
ized by different Th/La ratios.
The heterogeneity of the mantle sources of Middle At-
las mafic lavas can be further evidenced using other ratios
of highly incompatible elements (e.g. Th/Nb), which are not
considerably modified during partial melting [Legendre
et al., 2006; see fig. 6b]. In contrast, ratios between highly
and moderately incompatible trace elements (e.g. Th/Yb)
are sensitive to the degree of partial melting as shown above
(fig. 6c). Different types of sources, each of them affected
by variable partial melting degrees, may be distinguished in
the Th/Nb versus Th/Yb plot (fig. 7) for Middle Atlas alkali
basalts, basanites and nephelinites, respectively. In addi-
tion, alkali basalts seem to define two distinct linear corre- FIG. 5. – Plots of SiO2, MgO (wt%), Co and Cr (ppm) contents against Th
lations. The high Th/Nb trend might partly result from contents (ppm) for Middle Atlas lavas. Symbols as in figure 2.
FIG. 5. – Diagrammes de variation de SiO2, MgO ( % massiques), Co et Cr
contamination effects, as El Koudiate subalkaline basalts (ppm) en fonction de Th (ppm) pour les laves du Moyen Atlas. Symboles
plot at its upper tip. identiques à ceux de la figure 2.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


PETROLOGY AND K-AR CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEOGENE-QUATERNARY MIDDLE ATLAS, MOROCCO 253

partial melting degrees (fig. 8) range from very low


(F < 0.02) for nephelinites to up to 7% for some alkali bas-
alts (F = 0.04-0.07). In short, according to our major and
trace element data, the Middle Atlas alkali basalt –
basanite-nephelinite association might result from variable
but low (2-7%) partial melting degrees of enriched and
chemically heterogeneous (spinel + garnet)-bearing peridot-
ites located at depths slightly shallower than 70 km, i.e. at
the base of the North-African lithospheric mantle.
The strong downward K spikes observed in incompati-
ble multi-element patterns (fig. 3) indicate that the sources
of the Middle Atlas basalts contained residual
hydroxyl-bearing minerals (pargasite or pargasite +
phlogopite), and this feature implies that these sources were
in lithospheric position during partial melting [Class and
Goldstein, 1997; Spath et al., 2001; Panter et al., 2006]. In-
deed, pargasite, which commonly appears during
magma-peridotite interactions, is stable in the mantle until
it reaches the solidus between 1050 and 1075oC (dehydra-
tion melting curve of Niida and Green [1999]) under pres-
sures slightly lower than 2 GPa in the spinel + garnet
lherzolite facies. Once again, these pressures correspond to
depth of the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary beneath
the Middle Atlas [70 km: Zeyen et al., 2005; Missenard et
al., 2006]. Metasomatic pargasite is a common mineral in
the Bou Ibalrhatene peridotite xenolith suite [Raffone et al.,
2009]. The chemical imprint of pargasite in melts derived
from its breakdown is traced by contrasted behaviours of
LILE, LREE and HFSE, and can be identified by positive
correlations between Rb/K and Rb, Nb/Rb and Nb, Ce/K
and Ce [Francis and Ludden, 1995]. Such positive correla-
tions are observed in figure 9 plots. According to experi-
mental studies [Dalpé and Baker, 2000], the ratios used in
these plots become nearly constant when amphibole is con-
sumed for increasing melting degrees. The fact that this fea-
ture is not observed in figure 8 suggests that metasomatic
amphibole from the base of the North African lithospheric
mantle was not totally consumed during the genesis of the
Middle Atlas mafic melts.

FIG. 6. – Plots of incompatible trace element contents and ratios against Th


contents (ppm) for Middle Atlas lavas. Symbols as in figure 2.
FIG. 6. – Diagrammes de variation d’éléments et de rapports d’éléments en
traces incompatibles en fonction de Th (ppm) pour les laves du Moyen
Atlas. Symboles identiques à ceux de la figure 2.

few basanites which seem to derive from a slightly deeper


source, a majority of our samples defines a single trend in-
termediate between the 70% spinel – 30% garnet and the
50% spinel – 50% garnet curves in this plot. For tempera-
tures in the 1250-1050 o C range, this part of the spinel +
garnet field involves pressures slightly lower than 2 GPa
[Perkins et al., 1981], i.e. depths slightly shallower than FIG. 7. – Plot of Th/Nb against Th/Yb [Legendre et al., 2006] for Middle
70 km. Such depths precisely correspond to the lithosphere- Atlas lavas. Symbols as in figure 2.
FIG. 7. – Diagramme de variation de Th/Nb en fonction de Th/Yb [Le-
asthenosphere boundary beneath the Middle Atlas [Zeyen gendre et al., 2006] pour les laves du Moyen Atlas. Symboles identiques à
et al., 2005; Missenard et al., 2006]. The corresponding ceux de la figure 2.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


254 EL AZZOUZI M. et al.

that of a deflected part of the Canary plume [Duggen et al.,


2009]. In addition, the pargasite chemical imprint of Middle
Atlas lavas can only be consistent with their HIMU flavor if
this isotopic signature was transferred to the lithospheric
mantle during an earlier metasomatic pargasite-forming
event. More specifically, pargasite could have formed when
alkaline magmas derived from the large-scale Tertiary
plume percolated through the sub-Atlas lithospheric mantle
during the Early Tertiary [Duggen et al., 2005]. This pro-
cess has been recently documented from the study of the
Bou Ibalrhatene amphibole-bearing xenolith suite [Raffone
et al., 2009]. The thermal anomaly responsible for the
lithospheric thinning below the Atlas volcanic fields [Zeyen
et al., 2005; Teixell et al., 2005; Missenard et al., 2006]

FIG. 8. – Plot of La/Yb against Yb [Luhr et al., 1995] for Middle Atlas la-
vas. Symbols as in figure 2. F: weight fraction of liquid in the system
(0 < |F < |1).
FIG. 8. – Diagramme de variation de La/Yb en fonction de Yb [Luhr et al.,
1995] pour les laves du Moyen Atlas. Symboles identiques à ceux de la fi-
gure 2. F : fraction massique de liquide dans le système.

Tectonic controls of melting : the roles of


asthenosphere and lithospheric mantle
The Sr, Nd et Pb isotopic ratios measured on alkaline lavas
from Tamazert [Bernard-Griffiths et al., 1991], Middle At-
las and Oulmès [El Azzouzi et al., 1999; Duggen et al.,
2009] and Oujda area [Duggen et al., 2005] point out an en-
riched mantle source, relatively unradiogenic in Sr, showing
rather variable Nd isotopic ratios, and consistently rich in
radiogenic lead. This isotopic signature is close to the
HIMU (high U/Pb) end-member recognised in oceanic is-
lands such as St. Helens and Tubuai [Hart, 1988]. Such a
signature is frequently found in Cenozoic alkali basalts and
basanites from western and central Europe, the western
Mediterranean domain, northern Africa, and eastern Atlan-
tic islands such as Madere and the Canary archipelago
[Hoernle et al., 1995; Anguita and Hernan, 2000; Duggen et
al., 2009]. The sources of these lavas are thought to derive
from a 2500 to 4000 km head diameter asthenospheric
plume, which would have risen below these areas during the
Early Tertiary [Hoernle et al., 1995]. The Eocene magmatic
events in High Atlas (Tamazert) and Rekkam might be
linked to the activity of this mantle plume, the heterogene-
ity of which is suggested by the highly variable chemistry
of the Tamazert rocks [Marks et al., 2008]. Alternatively,
Duggen et al. [2009] consider that the similarities between
the isotopic signatures of Middle Atlas and Canary Islands
basalts indicate that the Middle Atlas lavas derive from Ca-
nary plume materials. According to their new hypothesis,
the Canary plume materials would have been channelled be-
neath the thinned African lithosphere, and would have
flowed more than 1500 km to the western Mediterranean
along this subcontinental lithospheric corridor.
However, the small volume (< 50 km3) of Miocene to
Quaternary lavas erupted within the Atlas domain (among FIG. 9. – Plots of incompatible trace element ratios against Rb, Nb and Ce
which the Middle Atlas is by far the largest volcanic prov- contents (ppm) for Middle Atlas lavas. Symbols as in figure 2.
FIG. 9. – Diagrammes de variation de rapports d’éléments en traces in-
ince) seems hardly consistent with the activity of a huge compatibles en fonction de Rb, Nb et Ce (ppm) pour les laves du Moyen
asthenospheric plume [Hoernle et al., 1995], or even with Atlas. Symboles identiques à ceux de la figure 2.

Bull. Soc. géol. Fr., 2010, no 3


PETROLOGY AND K-AR CHRONOLOGY OF THE NEOGENE-QUATERNARY MIDDLE ATLAS, MOROCCO 255

could also have generated the Miocene to Quaternary alkali CONCLUSIONS


volcanism. The corresponding partial melting would be
linked to the thermal erosion of the base of the lithospheric The Middle Atlas volcanic province includes: a) minor vol-
mantle, previously enriched through metasomatic interac- umes of nephelinites, emplaced at different periods during
tions with the Early Tertiary plume-derived magmas the Miocene, the Pliocene and the Quaternary, and b) much
[Raffone et al., 2009]. This melting process might have more abundant Pliocene and Quaternary basanites and al-
started at ca. 16-15 Ma below the southern Middle Atlas, kali basalts. The subalkaline basalts from El Koudiate
generating the Middle Miocene nephelinites, and then prop- strombolian cone and associated flows likely originated
agated towards SW (Siroua, Sarhro) and NE (Guilliz, from the contamination of alkali basaltic magmas by sil-
Oujda), crosscutting the earlier tectonic boundaries ica-rich rocks from the upper continental crust.
[Missenard et al., 2006]. The origin of the recently evi- The temporal transition from nephelinites to basanites
denced lithospheric thinning below the Atlas domain, and and alkali basalts traduces low but increasing partial melt-
especially below the Middle Atlas volcanic province, is still ing degrees of heterogeneous mantle sources. These source
highly debated. The possibly equivalent asthenospheric up- rocks are thought to correspond to variably enriched parga-
rise below the French Massif Central volcanic provinces site + spinel + garnet lherzolites, located at depths slightly
[Granet et al., 1995; Sobolev et al., 1997] has been attrib- shallower than 70 km (corresponding to pressures of
uted to ascending asthenospheric fluxes resulting from the 2 GPa). Melting was probably triggered by the dehydration
detachment of the lithospheric root of the Alpine chain of pargasite at 1050-1075oC.
[Merle and Michon, 2001] or to the southeastern retreat of As the asthenosphere-lithosphere boundary is presently
the Tethysian plate subducting beneath the Mediterranean 70 km deep beneath the Middle Atlas, the partial melting
[Barruol et al., 2004]. By analogy and despite the lesser process affected therefore the base of the North-African
number of available tectonic and tomographic constraints, lithospheric mantle. The origin of the pargasite is attributed
the ascending asthenospheric flux below the Middle Atlas to a previous metasomatic event due to mantle percolation
might be a consequence of lateral mantle flow [Facenna et by deep OIB-type mafic melts of HIMU affinity, possibly
al., 2004] linked to the Gibraltar subduction [Gutscher et derived from the activity of an Early Cenozoic plume.
al., 2002]. However, these hypotheses do not explain why Melting is thought to have resulted from a high thermal
the location of the Moroccan Neogene and Quaternary vol- flux associated to the asthenospheric uprise, which caused
canism along a SW-NE strip extending from Siroua to the thermal erosion of the base of the North-African
Oujda (fig. 1, inset) fits closely that of the thinned litho- lithospheric mantle. The age and origin of this uprise be-
sphere underlying it [Missenard et al., 2006]. The lack of neath the “Moroccan Hot Line” extending from Siroua to
correlation between the ages of volcanic massifs and their Oujda are still poorly constrained.
position along this trend [El Azzouzi et al., 1999] is not
consistent with an Hawaiian-type hotspot activity nor with Acknowledgments. – This work has been initiated in the framework of the Moroc-
the flow of deflected hot materials from the Canary plume can-French CNRST-CNRS joint cooperative program SDU03/04/13841, which
beneath the thinned lithosphere [Duggen et al., 2009]. It funded the field trips and expenses of the participants. We acknowledge the
logistic help of the Faculté des Sciences, Université Mohammed-V, Rabat, du-
would rather fit the characteristics of hot lines [Bonatti and ring the field studies. Analytical expenses were funded by UMR 6538, Brest.
Harrison, 1976; Meyers et al., 1998; Déruelle et al., 2007]. The pertinent comments and careful corrections of Stéphane Scaillet and Ani-
Nevertheless, the age and origin of the lithospheric thinning ta Cadoux led to significant improvements of the manuscript. We thank
below the “Moroccan Hot Line” [Frizon de Lamotte et al., Jean-Claude Philippet who measured in Brest half of the new K-Ar data pre-
sented in this work, until his retirement in October 2005. We also thank A.
2008] are still poorly understood. Our new age results are in Michard, D. Frizon de Lamotte and A. Charrière for stimulating discussions
agreement with the hypothesis that it existed since at least concerning the tectonic setting and origin of Moroccan volcanics.
the Middle Miocene [Missenard et al., 2006]. SGF associate editor: J. Barbarand.

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