Scoria cones are the most common volcanic form globally, placing countless neighboring populations at risk
(Valentine and Gregg, 2008). They form from explosive Strombolian eruptions fed through planar magma-filled
conduits, which constitute a feeder dike when magma cools and solidifies (Valentine and Keating, 2007; Tibaldi,
2015). Feeder-dike systems play an essential role in eruptive dynamics (Carracedo-Sánchez et al., 2017);
therefore, understanding the role they play is crucial for identifying factors controlling their emplacement and
for further forecasting volcanic hazards. However, feeder dikes are poorly understood because they are rarely
exposed (Re et al., 2016), and their direct study represents a big challenge for volcanologists. They are
usually inferred from seismicity and other geophysical methods (Belachew et al., 2011).
The magma plumbing system in monogenetic scoria cones often consists of a single feeder dike (Németh and
Kereszturi, 2015). Nevertheless, some studies suggest it can be composed of an interconnected dike-sill network
(Muirhead et al., 2016; Foucher et al., 2018). In addition, the regional and local stress fields frequently
control the dike propagation through a newly formed fracture in the upper crust (Connor et al., 2000; Acocella
and Neri, 2009), and often, a dike intrusion can use a preexisting fault as a pathway to the surface (Le Corvec
et al., 2013). However, the conditions that allow it to intrude a preexisting fault are still discussed (e.g.,
Valentine and Krogh, 2006), and little is known about the factors that govern a feeder dike bifurcation.
In central México, the Michoacán-Guanajuato Volcanic Field (MGVF) is ideal for studying feeder dikes in
monogenetic scoria cones. There are ~900 scoria cones (Hasenaka and Carmichael, 1985), and many of them are
exploited as quarries where the feeder-dike system is at times left exposed. However, no feeder dike has been
studied in detail. This study presents a direct survey of the Cerrito Colorado scoria cone’s feeder-dike system
in the MGVF, explored through geological, structural, and drone spatial data. Cerrito Colorado offers
unprecedented three-dimensional exposure of its plumbing system, allowing a detailed survey of its geometry and
the factors that control the magma emplacement.
The Cerrito Colorado scoria cone sits in the Bajío basin, at the northernmost part of the MGVF within the
Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt’s (TMVB) central portion (Fig. 1). The TMVB is a Neogene E-W–oriented 1000-km-long
continental volcanic arc related to the Cocos and Rivera plates’ subduction along the Middle America trench
(Demant, 1978; Pardo and Suárez, 1995). The MGVF is a late Pliocene–Quaternary volcanic field (Hasenaka and
Carmichael, 1985) that occurs in an N-S to NNW-oriented extensional tectonic regime (Suter et al., 2001), where
volcanoes spatially coincide with three regional active fault systems: N-S, E-W, and NE-SW. N-S–oriented faults
belonging to the southern Basin and Range province originated 30 m.y. ago as normal faults and are still active
today as dextral strike-slip faults (Aguirre-Díaz and McDowell, 1993). This fault system controlled the
formation of the N-S normal faults in the study area and the Penjamillo-Pinos Graben east of the Cerrito
Colorado scoria cone (Fig. 1). The E-W–trending faults, known as the Chapala-Tula fault system, originated 19
m.y. ago as sinistral strike-slip faults, and today they are active as normal faults with a sinistral component
(Johnson and Harrison, 1989; Garduño-Monroy et al., 2009). E-W–oriented faults control the formation and
evolution of lacustrine basins and grabens in central México. The NE-SW faults correspond to a transfer fault
system acting as normal to oblique-slip faults. These faults exhibit a significant structural control for the
volcanic spatial distribution and geothermal manifestations (Gómez-Vasconcelos et al., 2020; Olvera-García et
(A) Tectonic setting of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB) in central México. (B) Location of the study area
(green box; Fig. 3) in the northern Michoacán-Guanajuato Volcanic Field; represented as an orange box in A and
an orange polygon in B. MAT—Middle-American Trench.
A microdrone MD-200 aerial vehicle was used to model the volcano and exposed feeder dikes. A photogrammetric
flight was performed at the height of 120 m above the volcano (~1890 m above sea level), allowing us to obtain
471 multispectral stereoscopic photographs with a spatial resolution of 30 cm (scale 1:30) in seven
photogrammetric flights. Photogrammetric images were processed and georeferenced (coordinate system: WGS 1984
UTM 13N) using the GeoSuite software to construct 3D models and orthoimages. A digital elevation model (DEM) and
an orthomosaic were generated in Agisoft Metashape Pro to perform a geomorphological analysis identifying
volcanic geoforms, dikes, and faults. The geomorphic characterization of Cerrito Colorado was done with the
orthomosaic, 3D model and a Google Earth timelapse for 1985, because, at this moment, the volcano is partially
destroyed by quarrying activities.
The volume was calculated with the following equation:
where V is the volume, H is the height, BD is the basal diameter, and CD is
the crater diameter.
A rock sample from the main feeder dike was analyzed at the Oregon State University (OSU) Argon Geochronology
Lab to determine the age of the Cerrito Colorado volcano. A groundmass separate was irradiated for 30 min in the
TRIGA Reactor along with the neutron fluence monitor mineral Fish Canyon Tuff flux monitor with a calibrated age
of 28.201 ± 0.023 Ma (1σ) after Kuiper et al. (2008). The 40Ar/39Ar age was obtained by
incrementally heating the material using a defocused 25-watt CO2 laser. The resulting gasses were
analyzed using an ARGUS-VI multi-collector mass spectrometer. A more detailed analytical method is available
from the OSU Argon Lab.
Structural data were obtained in the field by directly measuring tectonic structures (strike, dip, kinematics)
and dikes (strike, dip, thickness). Structural lineaments were traced in ArcMap, and the CoGo tool was used to
obtain their direction, which was plotted in a rose diagram with Rozeta software. Dihedral angle diagrams were
computed using Win_Tensor 5.8.8 with kinematic fault-slip data based on the Angelier stress ratio in the study
Cerrito Colorado Scoria Cone
The Cerrito Colorado is an NNW-elongated scoria cone with a low topographic profile. It had a basal diameter of
0.6 km, a crater diameter of 0.08 km, a height of 0.04 km, an area of 0.35 km2, and a volume of
0.0003 km3. However, nearly 50% has been destroyed by quarrying activities. Pyroclastic deposits
associated with this scoria cone consist of non-welded reddish diffuse stratified to massive successions of well
to poorly sorted scoria fall deposits. Fall deposits consist of coarse lapilli fragments interstratified with
fine lapilli fragments and a low percentage of bread-crust scoria bombs, though ballistic content increases in
the western part of the cone (Fig. 2A). Scoria lapilli and bombs show porphyritic textures with plagioclase,
olivine, and pyroxene phenocrysts. Scoria is altered to reddish, and fissures are often filled with silica
minerals. We dated groundmass from a juvenile fragment using 40Ar/39Ar geochronology that
yielded a plateau age of 1.68 ± 0.02 Ma. Cerrito Colorado overlies an undifferentiated thick, aphanitic basaltic
lava plateau of unknown age.
(A) Quarry outcrops showing the orthogonal dike complex in Cerrito Colorado scoria cone and ballistic-rich
deposits in the western portion of the volcano. (B) Aspect of dike 2 showing a cylindrical structure. (C) Dike
1: Main N-striking tabular feeding conduit.
Feeder Dikes Characterization
The magma plumbing system of Cerrito Colorado is exposed due to quarrying activities. It comprises a network of
orthogonal and interconnected conduits presenting two main directions: N-S and E-W. This dike complex fed the
Cerrito Colorado eruption, consisting of six sub-vertical to steeply dipping feeder dikes; four are N-S
oriented, and two are E-W oriented.
N-S–oriented dikes—Dike 1 is a tabular dike located in the central part of the scoria cone. It is 180 m long at
the surface and 1.1–1.9 m thick. It strikes 006° on average, but in the northern part changes to 023° and dips
82° mainly to the E. This dike shows vertical striae. Dike 2 is 60 m E of dike 1. It is a tabular dike that
presents a cylindrical geometry at a shallower depth (>8 m depth) in its northern part. The tabular portion
is 130 m long and 0.4–1.1 m thick. The cylindrical portion measures 6 m in diameter at 8-m -depth with 0.3-m
-thick annular walls, diminishing to 2.5 m in diameter at the surface (Fig. 2B). It strikes 186° and dips 85° to
the W on average, but in its southern part, it dips to the E (supplemental material Fig. S1B1). Dike
3 is 50 m W of dike 1. It is a tabular 70-m-long and 1–1.1-m-thick structure. On average, it strikes 001° and
dips 83° to the E. Dike 4 is 10 m west of dike 3, showing a left-stepped en échelon geometry. It is a tabular
80-m-long and 0.5–1-m-thick conduit. It strikes 351° and dips 80°E on average (Figs. 2 and 3).
(A) Location of the Cerrito Colorado scoria cone and surrounding fault traces. (B) Rose diagram for the regional
and local faults (lower hemisphere projection). (C) Dihedral angle diagram of the Oligocene-Miocene stress field
agrees with N-S normal faults and tension fractures. (D) Dihedral angle diagram for the Miocene-present stress
field agrees with E-W normal faults and tension fractures. Data computed using Win_Tensor 5.8.8 with kinematic
fault slip data in the study area (see structural data in Table S1 [see text footnote 1]).
E-W–oriented dikes—Dike 5 is a tabular conduit in the central part of the scoria cone. It crosscuts and is
perpendicular to dike 3. It is 120 m long and 1.5 m thick. It strikes 98° and dips 80° to the S on average. Dike
6 lies 70 m north of dike 5. It shows a tabular geometry, and it crosscuts and is perpendicular to dike 4. It is
at least 20 m long and 0.4–0.5 m thick. It strikes 069° and dips 83°S on average (Figs. 2 and 4).
All dikes display a single brecciated chilled and dense margin and a vesicular core. Vesicles are spherical
toward the periphery, larger and vertically elongated toward the core. All dikes seem to have arrived all the
way to the surface, feeding the eruption (see the free-surface effect on dike 2; Fig. S1B [see footnote 1]);
except for dike 6, which may have not reached the surface (at least not the exposed segment that is 4 m below
the surface) (Figs. 2, S1, and S2 [see footnote 1]). Dike 1 arrives all the way up to the original cone summit,
dikes 1 and 4 preserve on their top the original vegetation, and dikes 3–5 apex contour the original slopes of
Shaded-relief model of the Cerrito Colorado scoria cone generated with the aerial vehicle. The model allows
identifying the quarrying excavation, the exposed dike-feeding system and its cross-cutting relations.
Characterization of Faults
Regional fault traces and lineaments show three main directions: N-S, E-W, and NE-SW. The E-W direction is the
most common, followed by the N-S (Fig. 3B), represented by normal to oblique-slip and dextral to oblique-slip,
respectively, en échelon faults. Fault kinematics are revealed by geomorphology, structural data, and regional
fieldwork (striae, Riedel structures) and endorsed by previous work. The Cerrito Colorado scoria cone lies on
top of a 5-km-long N-S–striking dextral-normal steeply dipping fault (355°/84°E) (Fig. 3).
Faults cut Dikes 1 and 5. Dike 1 is cut by E-W- and NE-SW–striking and steeply dipping (76°N and 85°SE,
respectively) faults. Dike 5 is cut by N-S–striking and steeply dipping (82°W) faults that displace the scoria
cone’s deposits by at least 0.2 m (Fig. S1 and Table S1 [see footnote 1]).
Structural Control on Magma Emplacement
The regional tectonic stress field usually controls a dike intrusion’s orientation. The geometric aspect of the
dike is perpendicular to the least compressive stress (σ3) (Martí et al., 2016), but its emplacement can be
influenced by local preexisting faults or fractures (e.g., Connor et al., 2000), which may or may not be
perpendicular to σ3 at the time of the eruption. Local rotation of principal stresses by 90° may be favored when
pressurized magma exceeding σ3 intercepts a discontinuity like a steeply dipping preexisting fault, easing magma
ascent at shallow depths because shear strength here is lower than that of the surrounding rock (Valentine and
Krogh, 2006; Gudmundsson, 2020).
The MGVF is a low magma-flux field where dikes and normal faults take up active extension. Here, dikes are
prone to intercept a preexisting fault, even if it is not oriented with the principal stresses at the time of
the eruption. This results in many N-S and E-W–oriented volcanic alignments along this monogenetic field, which
parallel the dominant preexisting fault trends (Cebriá et al., 2011; Gómez-Vasconcelos et al., 2020).
In the Cerrito Colorado scoria cone, N-S dikes 1–4 do not strike normal to the least principal stress (σ3), and
E-W dikes 5–6 strike normal to the least principal stress at the time of the eruption. The usage of preexisting
structures by ascending magma is favored in this region because the main fault plane is an active steeply
dipping transfer fault parallel to σ3 and perpendicular to σ2, the magma pressure exceeds σ3, and the horizontal
stress differential between σ3 and σ2 must have been very low at the time of the intrusion (e.g., Yale, 2003;
Heidbach et al., 2007). We infer a low horizontal stress ratio because magma overpressure will increase σ3 and
thus make it similar to σ2. We also infer this low-stress ratio because both E-W and N-S faults are active under
the same regional stress regime; N-S faults act as anti-Riedel structures in a transtensional setting. N-S
faults are dextral faults with a normal component and used to act as normal faults in the late
Miocene-Oligocene, so are more prone to dilate, allowing a magma pathway to the surface. The fact that dikes are
intruding through preexisting N-S faults also evidences that σ3 and σ2 are interchanged. Therefore, the regional
tectonic stress field and preexisting tectonic structures conditioned the orientation (spatial distribution) of
the Cerrito Colorado feeder-dike system. Further, the ascent of geothermal fluids was also fault-controlled,
evidenced by abundant quartz minerals and proximity to the Cascada thermal pools (Fig. 3).
Eruption Evolution and Eruptive Dynamics
The Strombolian-style eruption of Cerrito Colorado had the following dike order: 1, 2/3, 4, 5, 6. We suggest
this dike order because of their heights, widths, and cross-cutting relations; dikes 5 and 6 cut dikes 3 and 4,
respectively (Figs. 3–5). Magma overpressure diminishes toward the end of the eruption; therefore, we infer
larger and wider dikes will come first. The eruption begun with feeder dike 1 (largest and widest dike) arriving
at the surface using a preexisting N-S steeply dipping (84°) dextral fault, not coinciding with the stress field
at the time of the eruption. We suggest the magma intrusion intercepted the preexisting fault in the shallow
crust as it encountered this subvertical E-dipping shear zone. Vertical striae in some parts of feeder dike 1
could denote shearing from vertical magma flow. The emplacement of magma could have also relaxed the friction
across the host fault plane, triggering a co-intrusive fault slip if the preexisting fault was near failure
(e.g., Gaffney et al., 2007). Eventually, the vent from dike 1 became closed (local implosion) or buried by
scoria fragments, revealed by a further propagation of dike 1 to the north and a slight orientation change from
N-S to NE-SW, possibly related to its emplacement through weakly consolidated scoria deposits. This orientation
change in dike 1 could indicate limited degassing and gas accumulation beneath the surface, causing an
overpressure rise (e.g., Valentine and Krogh, 2006). Therefore, new vents had to be formed, allowing the release
of pressure through N-S preexisting fractures parallel to the main fault plane (dikes 2, 3, and 4) and through a
tangential self-propagating tabular dike coinciding with the stress field at the time of the eruption (parallel
to the greatest principal stress; dikes 5 and 6). Synchronously with the first dike intrusion, magma diverged
into a secondary vent: either dikes 2 or 3, assuming dike widths tend to diminish during the eruption (Fig. 5).
Dike 2 could have broken out of the main fault plane to propagate vertically at shallow depth (e.g., Connor et
al., 2000) all the way to the surface, evidenced by dike 2 chilled margins (Fig. S1 [see footnote 1]). Magma
plumbing bifurcation is encouraged with a magma ascent rate increase that creates magma overpressure (e.g.,
Geshi, 2005). The rise in magma’s ascent velocity is supported by its transition into a cylindrical mix-flow
conduit in its northern part at a shallower depth (<8 m depth; slug flow: continuous gas phase flowing
radially and axially; e.g., Suckale et al., 2010; Cashman and Sparks, 2013) denoting a gas-dominated flow that
allowed a larger and more stable magma flux (e.g., Costa et al., 2009). The slug flow in the cylindrical conduit
could have conditioned a change in the eruptive style (e.g., violent Strombolian activity) where pyroclastic
fall deposits become finer-grained and stratified. However, this would need a more detailed granulometric
analysis to verify the change in eruptive style. Dikes 3 and 4’s new vent opening allowed repressurization of
the system with a relatively cool (non-spatter) ballistic-rich eruption and ash-lapilli scoria fragments,
typical of a vent-opening stage (e.g., Thivet et al., 2020). Since dikes 1, 2, 3, and 4 dip E, bomb-rich
deposits mainly lie on the western part of the scoria cone (Fig. 2A). Subsequently, an E-W dike formed (dike 5)
through a new tangential self-propagating vent perpendicular to σ3. Dikes 4 and 6 show thinner and irregular
widths because they intruded through unconsolidated scoria fragments. The last dike (thinner dike: dike 6) did
not reach the surface to feed the eruption, probably because at this stage of the eruption, the magma
overpressure was reduced and did not exceed σ3. It is possible that dike 1 continued actively throughout the
eruption because it lies higher than the other dikes and arrives all the way up to the original cone summit.
Magma emplacement model for a complex feeder-dike system in monogenetic scoria cones. (A) Magma encounters a
stress barrier and intrudes a steeply dipping dextral-normal N-S preexisting fault parallel to the least
principal stress (σ3). (B) Magma bifurcates into 5–6 E-W feeder dikes (orthogonal to 1–4 feeder dikes) through
self-propagating fractures coinciding with the stress field at the time of the eruption (normal to the least
Studying the interior of a scoria cone and its magma plumbing system is a great challenge for volcanologists.
Nonetheless, quarrying activities in the MGVF help with the direct study of these structures.
This is the first direct and detailed study of a magma feeding system in a monogenetic scoria cone in México.
Our study supports many analog models and theoretical studies, providing new and direct evidence for magma
emplacement in low-magma–flux regions. We propose that at least two ingredients are needed for an orthogonal
dike swarm growth in monogenetic scoria cones: (1) relatively similar (isotropic) horizontal principal stresses
(σ3 and σ2) in order to be interchanged; and (2) changes in local magmatic pressure (magma overpressure, poor
degassing, or high flow rates at the surface). Moreover, we suggest that tabular dikes bifurcate tangentially
(at times en échelon), and cylindrical vents bifurcate radially (annular geometry) and axially to the main
conduit derived from local magma overpressure and centrifugal force.
In transtensional, low-magma–flux regions (e.g., MGVF), dike intrusions are tectonically controlled by regional
and local stress fields and can easily develop orthogonal dike systems. Dike intrusions at shallow depths can
intercept a preexisting fault that may or may not be perpendicular to σ3 at the time of the eruption, especially
when magma is overpressured and when preexisting faults are steeply dipping (>75°) and parallel or
perpendicular to σ3.
Our study attests that Strombolian eruptions are very unstable. Even slight local changes in magma pressure or
stress field (caused by local stress barriers like preexisting structures) can alter their feeding system,
inducing changes in the eruption dynamics with important implications on their volcanic hazard. The feeder
system to the Cerrito Colorado eruption was controlled by N-S preexisting structures, the regional and local
tectonic stress field, and magma pressure changes.
We are grateful to Jorge Lara, Nestor Fitz, and Karla Cruz for their valuable support during fieldwork. We also
thank Jim Schmitt (GSA Today science editor), James Muirhead and Abdelsalam Elshaafi (reviewers), and Pilar
Villamor for their valuable feedback, which improved our manu-script quality. This study was funded by project
A1-S-23296 (CONACYT) to Dr. Avellán.
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