The pursuit of a comprehensive theory for the origin and evolution of granitoids is hindered by our incomplete understanding of the nature of the source and the mechanisms by which the magma is segregated and transported. This paper is a collection of three largely independent and necessarily incomplete perspectives on these outstanding issues. Lower to mid-crustal regions, which contain the principal source material for granitoid magmas, are highly heterogeneous. Consideration of available transfer mechanisms suggests that (1) this heterogeneity survives all foreseeable lower crustal processes; (2) closure is on very different scales for different chemical systems (e.g. Pb, Nd, Sr and O isotopes); in almost all cases, however, closure scale is much smaller than the scale of magma extraction zones for plutons; and (3) pluton-wide homogenisation of magmas by diffusion is precluded by low diffusivities in felsic melts. Thus, granitoid magmas begin life as aggregates of small, isolated chemical domains; homogenisation occurs only through (and on the scale of) effective stirring by convection. Because of variability in local conditions as well as in bulk composition, crustal regions undergoing anatexis must be patchworks with variable melt fractions and melt compositions. The way in which magma is extracted from and coalesces with this patchwork exerts a critical influence on the nature of granitoid magmas. Decoupling and unusual coupling of compositional parameters and isotopic heterogeneity within plutons are to be expected in crust-derived granitoids and do not require contamination. Granites image their sources, but these sources are ill-defined and do not correspond to simple, easily-recognised materials. Extent and patterns of heterogeneity remaining in crystallised plutons may be effective indicators of the ascent process.
The efforts of materials scientists in characterising the nature and evolution of solid-phase interconnectivity in partially-molten materials may offer some insights into crustal magmatic processes. In particular, the rheological properties of partially-molten crustal rocks are probably strongly affected by the contiguity of the solid grains in the system (i.e. the fraction of their surface area that is shared with other grains). Theory and experimental data for simple alloy systems reveal that contiguity depends principally upon melt fraction and upon the characteristic wetting angle (θ) of the system. Measured θ's in granitoids (∼50° on average) imply contiguities as high as ∼0·2 for melt fractions of 0·5 or greater. This value in turn suggests that, at least under static conditions, a continuous skeleton of solid grains is maintained to quite high degrees of melting in the crust. Consequently, regions consisting of 50% or more of melt can, in principle, maintain not only high yield strength, but also high viscosity (provided the strain rate is sufficiently low to avoid disrupting contiguity).
Despite the fact that on some time scale the continuous solid skeleton of a partially-molten region resists deformation, it is itself subject to textural evolution that could lead to the upward migration of melt. Occasional detachment of grains from the skeleton and subsequent “microsettling” within the partially-molten column may lead eventually to compaction of the solid (without plastic deformation) and net upward displacement of melt.
Proposed granite transport mechanisms are discussed, although several are viewed as having historical interest only. In the absence of tectonic transport, diapirism appears to be the most compelling of these processes. However, considerable diversity exists in the literature regarding a pivotal requirement for this mechanism. Structural studies have tended to conclude that the granite diapir must be highly crystallised in order to ascend, whereas results of physical modelling yield contradictory results. For ascent to occur in these models, the magmas must be sufficiently fluid to allow convective circulation. Indeed, heat loss associated with diapirism is so efficient as to be a significant restriction on overall ascent. The resolution of these contrasting views appears to be that they reflect different phases of the ascent/emplacement continuum. Understanding the emplacement history of a southeastern Australian pluton allows assessment, via the diapir model, of the flow properties of the rock within the deformation aureole. Results suggest rock viscosities about an order of magnitude lower than those predicted by laboratory experiments, perhaps reflecting difficulties in reproducing natural conditions in the laboratory.