Igneous sills record far-field and near-field stress interactions during volcano construction: Isle of Mull, Scotland

T. L. Stephens*, R. J. Walker, D. Healy, A. Bubeck, R. W. England, K. J.W. McCaffrey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
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Sill emplacement is typically associated with horizontally mechanically layered host rocks in a near-hydrostatic far-field stress state, where contrasting mechanical properties across the layers promote transitions from dykes, or inclined sheets, to sills. We used detailed field observations from the Loch Scridain Sill Complex (Isle of Mull, UK), and mechanical models to show that layering is not always the dominant control on sill emplacement. The studied sills have consistently shallow dips (1°–25°) and cut vertically bedded and foliated metamorphic basement rocks, and horizontally bedded cover sedimentary rocks and lavas. Horizontal and shallowly-dipping fractures in the host rock were intruded with vertical opening in all cases, whilst steeply-dipping discontinuities within the sequence (i.e. vertical fractures and foliation in the basement, and vertical polygonal joints in the lavas) were not intruded during sill emplacement. Mechanical models of slip tendency, dilation tendency, and fracture susceptibility for local and overall sill geometry data, support a radial horizontal compression during sill emplacement. Our models show that dykes and sills across Mull were emplaced during NW–SE horizontal shortening, related to a far-field tectonic stress state. The dykes generally accommodated phases of NE–SW horizontal tectonic extension, whereas the sills record the superposition of the far-field stress with a near-field stress state, imposed by emplacement of the Mull Central Volcano. We show that through detailed geometric characterisation coupled with mechanical modelling, sills may be used as an indication of fluctuations in the paleostress state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-174
Number of pages16
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date22 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

This work was undertaken during T.L. Stephens's PhD studentship, supported by the Central England Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Training Alliance (CENTA) [award reference: 1503848]. The authors would like to thank Simon Martin for useful fieldwork discussions; Eline Goudier and Meline Massot for assistance with sample density measurements; and Natalie Farrell for advice and constructive comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. The authors would also like to thank Michael Bickle, Craig Magee and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments during review.

Supplementary material related to this article can be found online
at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2017.09.003.


  • horizontal shortening
  • intrusion
  • mechanical stratigraphy
  • sill


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