Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth

The Steens Mountain (Oregon) geomagnetic polarity transition: 1. Directional history, duration of episodes, and rock magnetism

Authors

  • Edward A. Mankinen,

  • Michel Prévot,

  • C. Sherman Grommé,

  • Robert S. Coe


Abstract

The thick sequence of Miocene lava flows exposed on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon is well known for containing a detailed record of a reversed-to-normal geomagnetic polarity transition. Paleomagnetic samples were obtained from the sequence for a combined study of the directional and intensity variations recorded; the paleointensity study is reported in a companion paper. This effort has resulted in the first detailed history of total geomagnetic field behavior during a reversal of polarity. A comparison of the directional variation history of the reversed and normal polarity intervals on either side of the transition with the Holocene record has allowed an estimate of the duration of these periods to be made. These time estimates were then used to calculate accumulation rates for the volcanic sequence and thereby provide a means for estimating time periods within the transition itself. The polarity transition was found to consist of two phases, each with quite different characteristics. At the onset of the first phase, a one-third decrease in magnetic field intensity may have preceded the first intermediate field directions by about 600 years. Changes in field direction were confined near the local north-south vertical plane when the actual reversal in direction occurred and normal polarity directions may have been attained within 550±150 years. The end of the first phase of the transition was marked by a brief (possibly 100–300 years) period with normal polarity and a pretransitional intensity which suggests a quasi-normal dipole field structure existed during this interval. The second phase of the transition was characterized by a return to very low field intensities with the changes in direction describing a long counterclockwise loop in contrast to the earlier narrowly constrained changes. This second phase lasted 2900±300 years, and both normal directions and intensities were recovered at the same time. Both directional and intensity data document very erratic geomagnetic field behavior during the polarity transition. Changes in magnetic field direction were variable and occurred either (1) in a regular, progressive manner, (2) with sudden, extremely rapid angular changes (58°±21°/year), or (3) with little or no movement for periods of the order of 600±200 years. Changes in magnetic intensity occurred in a like manner and were sometimes correlated with changes in direction, but during other periods both directional and intensity changes occurred independently. Directional changes following the polarity transition occurred in a seemingly normal manner, although intensity fluctuations attest to some instability of the newly reestablished dipole.

Ancillary