Palaeocene volcanic activity is represented in west-central Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, by a laterally extensive and thick pile of sub-aerial lavas mainly belonging to the alkali olivine basalt—hawaiite—mugearite—benmoreite—trachyte suite. The lavas are typical of many continental flood basalt suites and were principally fed from fissure eruptions similar to those of present day Iceland. Intercalated with the lavas are rare beds of heterogeneous volcaniclastic material, including breccias, conglomerates, sandstones and mudstones. The sequence forms a major portion of a larger volcanic field preserved within the NNE-SSW-elongated ‘Sea of the Hebrides’ sedimentary basin.
Significant hiatuses in the volcanic activity are marked by deep-weathering profiles and thin sedimentary sequences comprising mudstones, ironstones, coals, sandstones and conglomerates. Palaeocurrent indicators and clast lithologies within the clastic sedimentary rocks indicate that erosion of a massif dominated by the Palaeocene Rum Igneous Complex and its roof rocks, c. 20 km to the S, provided abundant detritus to a river system which drained towards the N. Such sedimentary intercalations aid the stratigraphical subdivision of the lava field. Eight lava groups, each most likely with a different focus of fissure eruption, and divisible into mappable formations, together with two sedimentary formations, are recognised.
The alkali olivine basalts are typically thin, with a tendency to form compound flows with limited lateral extents, whilst the hawaiites and mugearites are considerably thicker and cover large areas. Only very rarely are flow terminations observed. The original extents of the single benmoreite and rare trachytes cannot be determined from their limited erosional remnants. The more evolved flows tended to occur after brief hiatuses in the volcanic activity, indicated by well-developed lateritic tops to the underlying flows.
The youngest preserved lava is a columnar-jointed olivine tholeiite with a MORB-like composition. The flow is at least 120 m thick and apparently ponded in a steep-sided palaeo-valley within the lava field.
Three fault trends are recognised: parallel, normal and marginally oblique to the main NW-SEtrending regional dyke swarm, and dissect the lava field into a number of discrete blocks. The more significant of these faults may have been active during the development of the lava field, and in some instances instrumental in controlling the distribution of the flows.
Later Tertiary erosion has removed an unknown thickness of material from the upper part of the lava field, the preserved thickness of which is estimated to be about 1·5 km.