The continental record and the generation of continental crust

P. A. Cawood*, C. J. Hawkesworth, B. Dhuime

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

313 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Continental crust is the archive of Earth history. The spatial and temporal distribution of Earth's record of rock units and events is heterogeneous; for example, ages of igneous crystallization, metamorphism, continental margins, mineralization, and seawater and atmospheric proxies are distributed about a series of peaks and troughs. This distribution reflects the different preservation potential of rocks generated in different tectonic settings, rather than fundamental pulses of activity, and the peaks of ages are linked to the timing of supercontinent assembly. The physio-chemical resilience of zircons and their derivation largely from felsic igneous rocks means that they are important indicators of the crustal record. Furthermore, detrital zircons, which sample a range of source rocks, provide a more representative record than direct analysis of grains in igneous rocks. Analysis of detrital zircons suggests that at least similar to 60%-70% of the present volume of the continental crust had been generated by 3 Ga. Such estimates seek to take account of the extent to which the old crustal material is underrepresented in the sedimentary record, and they imply that there were greater volumes of continental crust in the Archean than might be inferred from the compositions of detrital zircons and sediments. The growth of continental crust was a continuous rather than an episodic process, but there was a marked decrease in the rate of crustal growth at ca. 3 Ga, which may have been linked to the onset of significant crustal recycling, probably through subduction at convergent plate margins. The Hadean and Early Archean continental record is poorly preserved and characterized by a bimodal TTG (tonalites, trondhjemites, and granodiorites) and greenstone association that differs from the younger record that can be more directly related to a plate-tectonic regime. The paucity of this early record has led to competing and equivocal models invoking plate-tectonic- and mantle-plume-dominated processes. The 60%-70% of the present volume of the continental crust estimated to have been present at 3 Ga contrasts markedly with the

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-32
Number of pages21
JournalGeological Society of America Bulletin
Volume125
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • DIFFERENTIAL ZIRCON FERTILITY
  • SOUTHERN WEST GREENLAND
  • HF-ISOTOPE EVIDENCE
  • DETRITAL ZIRCONS
  • U-PB
  • PLATE-TECTONICS
  • LITHOSPHERIC MANTLE
  • SUBDUCTION ZONES
  • EARTHS CRUST
  • HEAT-FLOW

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