The continental record and the generation of continental crust

P. A. Cawood, C J Hawkesworth, Bruno Dhuime

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347 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 sea water 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 arelinked to the timing of supercontinent assembly. The physiochemical 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 ~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 <10% of crust of that age apparently still preserved and requires on going destruction (recycling) of crust and subconti nental mantle lithosphere back into the mantle through processes such as subduction and delamination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-32
Number of pages19
JournalGeological Society of America Bulletin
Volume125
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes

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