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The Archean

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    Archean rocks are an important source of information concerning the early evolution of the Earth, and the development of the Earth's four main reservoirs (click - 15cntgrw.gif). They are found within all continents (click - seisdurr1.jpg), but the largest single belt of Archean is represented by the Superior Province of the Canadian Shield, and the oldest rocks in the world, the Acasta gneisses, are located in the Canadian Slave Province.

 Key review references:

        Armstrong, R.L. 1991. The persistent myth of crustal growth. Australian Jour. Earth Sci., 38, p. 613-630.

        Bowring, S.A. and Housh, T. 1995. The Earth's Early Evolution. Science, 269, p. 1535-1540.

        Davies, G.F. 1997. The mantle dynamical repertoire: plates, plumes, overturns and tectonic evolution, AGSO Jour. Australian Geology and Geoph., 17, p. 93-99.

        Taylor, S.R. and McLennan, S.M. 1997. The origin and evolution of the Earth's continental crust. AGSO Jour. Australian Geology and Geoph., 17, p. 55-62.

The Superior Province
    The c. 3000-2700 Ma Archean age Superior Structural Province is made up of east-west trending paired belts of northerly volcanic and southerly sedimentary sub-provinces [e.g. Uchi-English river; Wapigoon-Quetico/Nemiscau (Opinaca), Wawa/Opatica/Abitibi-Pontiac], within which (Opatica/Wawa; Winnipeg River) and beyond to the north (Berens) occur irregular belts of tonalitic gneisses with 'floating' 'keels' of metavolcanic rock. In general the pluton-dominated gneiss belts structurally underlie the low grade volcanic/sedimentary belts, and are thought to represent exhumed middle/lower crustal levels of the Archean craton.  Locally, lower crustal high grade (granulite) gneisses are up-faulted as linear domains within the gneiss/volcanic belts (e.g. Kapuskasing)
    The Superior Province of Canada I - arch2sup1.jpg
   The Superior Province of Canada II - arch2sup2.jpg
    Subprovinces of the Abitibi Province and location of LIthoprobe seismic reflection and refraction profiles - arch1abit1.jpg
    Seismic interpretation of the structure of the Abitibi Province - arch1abit2.jpg
    Map of the Kapuskasing structural  'High' (lower Archean plate) - archkapus1.jpg
    Simple plate tectonic model for the evolution of the Abitibi belt of the Superior Province - arch2sup3.jpg

    Although no mantle-bearing ophiolite or arc units have been recognised in the Archean, ultramafic rocks are nevertheless ubiquitously present in the form of magmatic flow rocks known as komatiite. The upper parts of the flows are characterised by the presence of olivine or, more rarely, clinopyroxene, in the form of coarse, platey, sheaf-like aggregates that propagate downwards from the upper surface of the flow. The aggregates resemble Australian spinifex grass, and the olivine is therefore said to be spinifex textured. The presence of ultramafic liquids in Archean volcanic sequences is used as evidence that geothermal gradients were higher during the Archean than at present, and that the mantle was subjected to relatively high degrees of melting at this time - although possibly with as much as 4 wt.% water (Parman et al., 1997). Archean volcanic sequences are important sources of Ni, Cu, Zn, Fe, and Au, but not tin.
    Rocks of the Abitibi sub-province of the southern Superior province are very well preserved, and little exhumed. Along its southern margin the Abitibi volcanics are overlain by belt of turbiditic sediments that pass from proximal to distal from north to south. The source of the sediments, and particularly the 2900-2800 Ma detrital zircons found in the Pontiac, likely lies to the north within the exhumed Opatica gneiss belt.
    The Superior Province of Canada, zircons - arch2sup2.jpg

The boundary zone of the volcanic and sedimentary sequences is also the locus of deposition of shallow water coarse conglomerate, cross bedded sandstones, and K-feldspar rich alkali syenites (shoshonites), granites and rhyolites. The boundary zone is an important site of deposition of hydrothermal gold at c. 2693 Ma.

Within the belts dominated by plutonic rocks, Archean supracrustal sequences are commonly preserved as relict 'mafic keels' within a sea of granitoid intrusive rocks of the 'Tonalite-Tronhdjemite-Granodiorite' suite.
    In the type area for this mode of occurrence, the Barberton Mountain Land (click) granite-greenstone terrane of South Africa is composed of small wedges of tonalitic gneiss (Theespruit gneiss, 3538 Ma), komatiitic, mafic and felsic volcanics (Onverwacht Group, 3472 - 3416 Ma) injected by 3352 Ma old gabbro and diabase (rifting), a middle sequence of greywackes, cherts, and ignimbritic volcanic rocks (Fig Tree Group), and an upper sequence of shallow marine to subaerial quartzose sediments. One Archean model suggests that the Onvervacht represents Archean ocean crust obducted onto the Theespruit gneiss as continental crust. The main phase thrust and recumbent fold deformation of the Barberton Mountain Land was a very rapid event, initiated during the later stages of deposition of the Fig Tree Group and coeval with upper Fig Tree ignimbritic volcanism at 3227 Ma. The deformation was followed by the very rapid deposition of the molasse-like Moodies Group. The latest stage in the Archean evolution of the Barberton Mountain Land involved formation of upright Archean folds and extensive intrusion of potassic granites at c. 3105 Ma.
    In Canada a representative example of a relict greenstone keel would be the c. 3023 - 2900 Ma North Spirit Lake (click) greenstone belt of the northern Superior Province (Sachigo sub-province). This belt is unusual however in that the mature quartz-arenitic Nemakwis assemblage - analogous to the Moodies of South Africa - overlying the basal ultramafic-mafic-felsic volcanic sequence is overlain by younger spinifex textured komatiite flows. This unit is followed in turn by coarse alluvial sediments and c. 2735 Ma-old mafic-felsic volcanic rocks and associated turbidites. As in the Abitibi belt, the youngest assemblage at North Spirit Lake includes shoshonitic rocks and course fluvial sediments.
    Where the Archean crust has been tilted and/or uplifted, as in the case of the Kapuskasing belt of Ontario, it can be observed that the low grade volcanic and sedimentary rocks are separated from the high grade mafic rocks by extensive areas of tonalitic gneiss.
    Map of the Kapuskasing 'High' - archkapus1.jpg

The Slave Province

    The oldest zircons found in the Archean are 4300 Ma detrital zircons in Archean rocks of Western Australia (but see). However the 4000 Ma zircons from the Acasta gneisses (tonalitic, amphibolitic and granitic gneiss protoliths) of the Slave Province are the oldest zircons from mappable intact terrestrial rocks. The gneisses form the basement on which were deposited 2810 to 2600 Ma old volcanic and sedimentary rocks. Deposition of c. 2600 ma turbidite and conglomerate sequences across the entire Slave Province was synchronous with or closely followed by regional deformation, metamorphism, and plutonism between 2600 and 2580 Ma. The existence of even older crust in the Slave Province is indicated by the widespread presence of older cores in the zircons of even the oldest rocks, and epsilon Nd values as low as -7 resulting from the mixing of mantle-derived melts and crustal magma produced by the melting of pre-existing amphibolitic mafic and tonalitic crust. (See below)

   NATMAP Slave Province Project, Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 36, no. 7 (July) - slavenatmap1.jpg
    Map of the Slave Province - slavecolmap.jpg
    Map of the Slave Province according to Isachson and Bowring, 1997 - slaveisach.jpg
    Stratigraphic summary diagram for the Central Slave Cover Group - slavestrat1.jpg
    Time-space chart for the Northwestern Slave basement complex - slavetecthist2.jpg
    Time-space chart for the Central Slave basement complex - slavetecthist3.jpg
    Maps showing regional distribution of events detailed in the Time-space charts - slavetecthistmaps
    Diagram illustrating  the Tectono-statigraphic development of the Slave Province with time - slavetecthist1.jpg

Is the subcontinental lithosphere beneath Archean terranes different from that beneath Proterozoic terranes?

    P-wave velocities in mantle minerals are inversely proportional to the density of minerals of the same family - more correctly P-wave velocities are related to the rigidity characteristics of minerals, and Forsterite has a high velocity than Fayalite even though Forsterite is less dense than Fayalite.  However, between mineral species, P-wave velocities  increase with density from quartz to feldspar to pyroxenes to olivine to garnet.
   Density versus Vp, upper mantle minerals and rocks - seismantvp.jpg

    On the assumption that the base of the crust is located at the depth at which the seismic velocity exceeds 7.6 km/s, it would seem, with the exception of Canada, that the Crust of Archean provinces is relatively thin compared to Phanerozoic provinces. In explanation (Durrheim and Mooney, 1991) it has been proposed that the material for the formation of Archean crust was derived directly from the mantle beneath the Archean crust, which is therefore relatively depleted in crust forming elements, whereas Proterozoic crust was formed by normal plate tectonic subduction-related processes involving lateral transfer of material AND the addition of basaltic material by the process of underplating. On the other hand Sr isotopic data suggests that the lithosphere beneath the Superior Province is relatively enriched in incompatible elements such as Rb. The metasomatic or intrusive addition of a garnet component to the mantle lithosphere (eclogite) would tend to maximize the P-wave velocity of the Archean tectosphere.
    Model crustal thicknesses for Archean and Proterozoic provinces - seisdurr2.jpg

             GSA Abst 2000
Mooney, W.D. and Artemieva, I. Thermal thickness of Precambrian lithosphere, p. A-165.
        Global thinning of the continental lithosphere with age decreasing from more than 200 km in Archean cratons to about 140 +/-50 in mid-late Proterozoic cratonic lithosphere, and 200 +/- 40 for the early Proterozoic lithosphere. The variation refelcts secular changes in the deep mantle thermal regime and possibly the convection pattern.

Session 194 Geophysics, p. A-429
    Artemieva, I. and Mooney, W.D. 2000, Deep structure and evolution of Archean cratons, p. A-429.

    Nature of the lithosphere beneath the Archean crust of South Africa- evidence from xenoliths in kimberlites

  Carlson, R.W. et al. 2000. Continental growth, preservation, modification in Southern Africa. GSA Today, 10, 2, 1- 6.
  Bouger gravity image across the Vredefort impact structure - seis1vred.jpg
  Map of southern Africa showing Re-depletion model ages measured for peridotite xenoliths from kimberlites - seis1sa1.jpg
    The Vredefort impact turned the Kaapvaal crust on its side such that the Archean lower crust is exposed near the centre of the structure, which is also the locus of a large positive gravity anomaly. The anomaly has been drilled and found to be composed predominantly of peridotite with Re-Os systematics (low Re/Os and 187Os/188Os values) and Re-depletion model ages (3.3-3.5 Ga) similar to that of the Kaapvaal lithosphere samples in kimberlites.  The lithosphere is therefore depleted, low density, buoyant, and 'stable', and the tectospheric root should be characterised by higher seismic velocities.
        Sapphirine granulite xenoliths derived from the lower crust by the Lace, Voorspied, and Star kimberlites in the central part of the Kapvaal craton between the Vredefort structure and the city of Bloemfontein indicate extreme temperatures of >1100 degrees C, with zircon and monazite cooling ages indicating metamorphism of of the lower crust at  2723 Ga. This event was synchronous with the Venterdorp flood basalt event. However, metamorphic zircons in granulites from kimberlites at the southern (northern Lesotho) and southwestern margin of the Kaapvaal have ages of 1.050-1.000 Ga and 1.114-1.092 Ga, respectively, indicating that the lower crust of the margins of the Kaapvaal were modified in the Mesoproterozoic much later than the initial Archean cratonisation at 3.0 Ga.
        Many Archean age eclogite xenoliths have oxygen isotopic compositions commensurate with an origin as subducted ocean floor basalt. The correlation of Re abundance with oxygen isotopic composition also suggests that the Re-Os of the eclogite protoliths were affected by oceanic hydrothermal alteration. [Note: all diamond-bearing eclogites display oxygen isotopic compositions comparable to mantle values and scatter relatively little about a 3 Ga Re-Os reference isochron, whereas diamond free eclogites show considerablescatter about the isochron.  The latter variation may be attributed to processes that involve mixing of different sources (metasomatism) or unmixing by partial melting.]  Some eclogite xenoliths have Proterozoic Sm-Nd Cpx-Garnet ages, and sulfide grains in diamonds from Orapa kimberlite (Kaapvaal craton) have both 3 Ga and 1 Ga Re-Os ages, with the 1 Ga age being similar to that of silicate inclusions in the diamond.  Other sulphide inclusions have Mesozoic ages. Eclogitic diamond growth seems therefore to have taken place during the cratonization and lithospheric keel-formation events, during the accretion of the surrounding Namaqua-Natal orogenic belt, and during Cretaceous magmatic underplating.
        The crystallization products of melts derived from deep in the lithosphere or beneath the lithosphere are believed to be represented by the Cr-poor megacryst suite of minerals found in kimberlites. One group (group I kimberlites) has a depleted source similar to HIMU (ocean island type), and a composition reflecting the influence of a component exhibiting a long-term depletion in Lu/Hf relative to Sm/Nd (i.e. light REE enriched), a component possibly derived from the sub-lithospheric mantle.

           GSA Abst 2000
Session 74 Deep structure of Archean Cratons, p. A-163
        James, D. et al., Seismic studies of lithospheric structure beneath southern Africa: implications for the formation and evolution of cratons, p. A-163.
         High velocity tectospheric roots extend to depths as great as 250 km and perhaps 300 km beneath the undisturbed Archean Kaapvaal craton of South Africa. The crust beneath undisturbed Archean craton is relatively thin (c. 35-40 km), is unlayered and has a relatively sharp and simple MOHO bondary. Below the Archean Limpopo belt the mantle is also "Archean cratonic" in character. There is a large low velocity region in the deep mantle representing the upper reaches of the African superswell.
    However, over a wide swath beneath the 2.05 GA Bushveld intrusion,  mantle velocities are lower.  Beneath the Bushveld complex and the Proterozoic crust adjoining the Kaapvaal craton the crust is 45-55 km thick and the MOHO signature is more complex. Crustal separation in the Archean and was therefore efficient, and the crust - mantle relationship has been stable since that time.
        Silver, P.G. et al., Mantle deformation beneath southern Africa, p. A-163
        Seismic anisotropy studies indicate that Archean mantle deformation fabrics are preserved in the Archean lithosphere. The seismic fabric (fast polarization directions) follows the trend of the Great Dike and the Limpopo belt. Anisotropy is however strongest under Late Archean terranes. Regions to the southwest beyond the Kaapvaal craton are underlain by thin lithosphere and anisotropy is considerably reduced. However, the minimal presence of anisotropy beneath the older Kaapvaal craton to the southeast require an explanation perhaps related to differences in continent forming processes during the early and late Archean.
        Carlson, R.W., et al. Chemical and age structure of the southern African lithopsheric mantle: implications for continent formation, p. A-163.
         Lithospheric peridotites are typically highly depleted in compatible elements (Ca, Al, Fe); depletion decreases slightly from the cratonic mantle (Fo=92.8) to the surrounding Proterozoic mantle (Fo=91.9). Most peridoties show metasomatic enrichment in incompatible elements. Re-Os-Al systematics show that the metasomatic agent was either kimberlite or carbonatite. Peridotites from on-craton localities have an Archean mean re-Os age of 2.9 Ga, slightly younger than the overlying crust; all off-craton samples have Proterozoic Re-depletion model ages  (mean 1.6 Ga). There is no correlation between age and depth of origin. Some eclogite xenoliths and eclogitic sulphide inclusions in diamonds from on-craton kimberlites give late Archean Re-Os ages suggesting that incorporation of mafic components into into the lithospheric mantle accompanied craton formation in the Archean. Stable isotopes indicate that some of the eclogites were emplaced into the lithosphere by subduction. Mantle xenoliths in the Premier kimberlites , which erupted through the margins of the Bushveld complex give Re-depletion model ages near 2.0 Ga, the approximate age of the Bushveld.

       Schmitz, M.D. et al.,  Constraints on the thermal evolution of the deep crust of the Kaapvaal craton from U-Pb rutile thermochronometry of Lower Crustal xenoliths, A-164.
        Metamorphic zircon and monazite in Free State kimberlite sapphirine granulite rocks  have ages of 2.72 Ga, whereas rutile gives an age of 1.2 Ga on an array trending to 2.4 Ga. Garnet granulite in Lesotho kimberlite are 1.0-1.1 Ga but rutile is .6 Ga and .1 Ga. Smallest rutiles are concordant at Cretaceous, as are rutiles from kimberlites at the southwestern margin and from Botswana. Lower crust cooled through rutile closing temperature at various times during the Proterozoic. reset thermal nergey related to Namaquaq-Natal craton margin tectogenesis, or intra-cratonic mafic magmatism related to the Karoo event and the breakup of Gondwana.

       Flowers, R.M. et al. The Vredefort discontinuity as a primary crustal boundary: implications for Kaapvaal lithospheric structure, Vredefort impact structure, South Africa.
        The apparent crustal cross-section preserves its primary intrusive relationships : the amphibolite-granulite facies boundary is gradational over several kilometers. Elongate quartz-syenite bodies subparallel the contactthe two predominant fabrics that characterize the dicontinuity are Archean. . Although there is not evidence for post-Archean meamorphism or deformation, Proterozoic recrystallized monazite and Proterozic - Paleozoic authigenic zircons suggest episodic hydrothermal events affected the Vredefort basement.

When did continental crust form in the Archean?
    Some komatiites in older Archean belts have relatively high positive epsilon Nd values indicating that they were derived from Sm relative to Nd enriched mantle material, that is, from depleted mantle. These komatiites are also characterised by low Al and Yb values, but high Ca values, and some rocks of this type are also enriched in Fe and Ti. The low Al and Yb could be accounted for by removal of garnet (HREE depletion) from the mantle source, but enigmatically would not account for the high epsilon Nd values reflecting high Sm/Nd (LREE depletion) of the mantle source. On the other hand Archean gneisses exhibit epNd values ranging from juvenile values of +3.5 at 4 Ga and +7 at 2.7 Ga to crustal values of -9 at 2.7 Ga. Whereas the negative epNd values likely reflect crustal recycling and/or crustal contamination, the variation in positive values of komatiitic rocks may represent primary variations in mantle chemistry or crustal recycling. The existence of values as high as +3.5 in the 4 Ga-old Acasta gneisses indicates that a depleted mantle reservoir existed by this time, whereas the negative values exhibited by some 3.6 Ga gneisses implies the existence of continental crust even at this early stage of the Earth's evolution.
        Variation in Epsilon Nd values for Archean rocks with ages between 4.0 and 2.5 Ga (see Bowring and Housh, 1995)

    The total area of crust older than 3.8 Ga is small, but nevertheless present in North America, West Greenland, China, Antarctica, and Western Australia. The limited amount of old crust is thought to relect the efficiency of recycling mechanisms during the Archean. However, as indicated in the report below it would seem unlikely that crust older than 3.9 Ga would be preserved in the present Archean inventory.

Lunar meteorite ages present new, strong evidence for the bombardment of the moon just as life was beginning on Earth.
          This event would have occurred when the first evidence of life appeared on Earth, according to scientists writing in the US journal Science last week (December 1 2000).
         Whether or not there was life on Earth at the beginning of the bombardment, such cataclysmic pounding would have enormous consequences for life on this planet, whether by destroying existing life or organic fragments or by delivering molecules and creating  conditions suitable for life, the researchers add.
         Barbara Cohen of the University of Tennessee -- Knoxville analysed the lunar meteoriteages for her dissertation research at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Timothy D. Swindle and David A. Kring of the UA collaborated on the study and are co-authors on the Science article. Swindle supervised Cohen's research. Kring is an expert in impact cratering and one of the discoverers of the K/T boundary Chicxulub impact site. Moon rocks  returned by the Apollo and Luna missions in the 1970s suggested that Earth's moon was blasted in a maelstrom of solar system debris at 3.9 billion years ago. A great swarm of asteroids or comets pounded the lunar surface during a brief pulse in geologic time, melting rocks, excavating vast craters and resurfacing Earth's natural satellite.
       But for safety and communications reasons, both manned and robotic spacecraft were landed near the moon's equator, on the side facing Earth. No one could say if just this part of the moon or the entire moon had suffered.  Cohen, Swindle and Kring bring the most significant data in nearly 30 years to bear on this question. They used an argon-argon dating technique in analysing impact melt ages of four lunar meteorites -- rocks ejected at  random from the moon's surface and that landed on Earth after a million or so years in space. They find from the ages of the clasts (melted rock fragments) in the breccia meteorites that  the entire moon was bombarded 3.9 billion years ago, a true global lunar cataclysm. Further, although the moon may have been bombarded before 3.9 billion years ago, the scientists find no evidence for it. If there were no earlier bombardment, scientists must  jettison theoretical models that assume a steady falloff in the lunar and inner solar system cratering rate through time.
        "Given the model of what was going on in the solar system, there is no obvious reason why you should suddenly have a bunch of things banging on the moon 4 billion years ago and not 4.2 billion years ago," Swindle said. But the most dramatic implication is what happened during this event on Earth. "The Earth is a much bigger target than the moon, " said Kring,
associate professor at the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab. "Earth would have been bombarded by at least 10 times  as many impact events as the moon, and these impact cratering processes are immense."
        The Chixculub crater that we identified, which is related to the mass extinction of dinosaurs and other life 65 Ma ago, is puny by comparison to the scheme we are talking about. Here we are talking about impacts that are 10 times larger, impacts that blasted craters rim-to-rim the size of continents on Earth today." "The bombardment would have charged the atmosphere with silicate vapour and vaporised the oceans, so if there was life on Earth  before the bombardment, the question is what, if anything, survived," Swindle said. Perhaps some genetically primitive "extremeophiles" survived, he added. This kind of life is found on Earth today deep in rocks or living at  the ocean vents. What did the bombarding? More likely asteroids than comets, based on some evidence from meteoritic trace constituents involved in the impacts and on other studies on what was happening at the time in the asteroid belt, Kring suggests.
    "When we first started this research, the goal was to find something older than 3.9 billion years," Cohen said. "We were very surprised at the evidence presented by seven different impacts, which pointed to 3.9 billion years."  Swindle said, "Going into this study, I would have bet that we wouldn't have found these results. I would have bet that we would have seen impacts earlier than 3.9 billion years ago."

Late Heavy Bombardment was asteroidal, not cometary, Geological Society website,  March 4, 2002
                     The bombardment that resurfaced the Earth 3.9 billion years ago was produced by asteroids, not comets,  according to David Kring (University of Arizona Lunar & Planetary Laboratory) and Barbara Cohen (University of Hawaii). Their findings appear in the February 28 edition of the Journal of Geophysical Research published by the  American Geophysical Union.
                     The significance of this conclusion is that the bombardment was so severe that it destroyed older rocks on Earth. Which, Kring says, is the reason why the oldest rocks found are less  than 3.9 billion years (Ga) old.
                    Additionally, they argue, impact-generated hydrothermal systems would have been excellent incubators for pre-biotic chemistry and the early evolution of life, consistent withprevious work that shows life originated in hot water systems  around or slightly before 3.85 Ga ago.
                     This same bombardment affected the entire inner solar system, producing thousands of impact craters on  Mercury, Venus, the Moon and Mars. Most of the craters in the southern hemisphere of Mars were produced during this event.
                     On Earth, at least 22,000 impact craters with diameters greater than 20 kilometres were produced, including about 40 impact basins with diameters of about 1000 kilometres in diameter. Several impact craters of about 5,000 kilometres were created as well - each one exceeding the dimensions of Australia, Europe, Antarctica or  South America. The thousands of impacts occurred in a very short period of time, potentially producing a globally-significant environmental change at an average rate of once per 100 years.
                     Also, the event is recorded in the asteroid belt, as witnessed by the meteoritic fragments that have survived to fall to Earth today.

        How would a hotter Earth influence the nature of Archean plate tectonics?

    Oceanic crust formed at oceanic ridges is positively buoyant. As it moved laterally away from the ridge, the underlying lithospheric part of the plate progressively cools and thickens - the thickness of the plate is proportional to the square root of its age. If the crust and lithosphere is composed of basaltic crust (top layer), depleted lithospheric mantle (middle layer), and lithospheric mantle (bottom layer) overlying asthenospheric mantle, then:

    D-asthenospheric-mantle = [D-basaltic-crust x h-basaltic-crust + D-depleted-lithosphere x h-depleted-lithosphere + D-lithosphere x (h-plate - h-basaltic-crust - h-depleted-lithosphere)] / h-plate, where D refers to density and h to thickness of the relevant layers (D-basaltic-crust < D-depleted-lithosphere < normal-lithosphere).

    Neutral buoyancy is achieved when the mean density of the plate is equal to the density of the underlying mantle. At the present time, oceanic plates achieve neutral buoyancy after about 20 Ma, or at a spreading rate of 3-5 cm / year, within a distance of 600-1000 km of the ridge, and the mean age of present-day plates when they reach the subduction zone is 100 Ma (5000 km at 5cm /year).

    If, during the Archean, the mantle was hotter by 60 degrees, the age of neutral buoyancy would have been greater. A hotter mantle would also have had a lower viscosity and would have convected faster. Consequently, the age of the crust at the subduction zone may have been less than the present average age of 100 Ma, and the crust may have therefore still been positively buoyant during attempted subduction. The tectonics of subduction may not have been as they are at the present time, and Archean crust may have amalgamated as hydrated thrust piles which were eventually subject to partial melting as they 'dripped' into the mantle, thus giving rise to the Archean tonalite terranes.
    Illustration of the buoyancy problem - arch2supbuoy.jpg

    When did the upper granitic crust form? - the end stages of Archean cratonisation.

    It is noticeable that Archean sediments invariably do not show marked positive Eu anomalies and are therefore unlikely to have been derived from a crust enriched in K-granites. Such crust appears only at the end of Archean crustal differentiation cycles, for example at 2.7 Ga in the case of the Canadian Shield. The K-rich granites represent small partial melts of the older tonalitic component of the Archean crust, and were perhaps formed following the achievement of some critical mass and subsequent thickening and underplating to provide heat for the partial melting. The principles involved in the generation of Eu-depleted granitoids by the partial melting of Archean tonalite are illustrated in the following data diagrams (Condie et al, 1985):
         Generalized geologic map of southern India - lprotmysore.jpg
         Chondrite-normalized REE patterns for Archean tonalites and granites - lprotmysoreree.jpg

    Peck, William H; King, Elizabeth M., Valley, John W. 2000. Oxygen isotope perspective on Precambrian crustal growth and maturation. Bull. Geological Society of America. 28, 4, Pages 363-366.
   AB: In this study we contrast insights on Precambrian crustal growth and maturation from radiogenic and oxygen isotope systematics in the Superior (3.0-2.7 Ga) and Grenville (1.3-1.0 Ga) provinces of the Canadian Shield. Oxygen isotope ratios in zircon provide the best evidence of supracrustal input into ancient orogens. Archean Superior Province zircons have relatively low delta 18O values and a limited range (5.7% +/- 0.6%), while Proterozoic Grenville Province zircons have elevated delta 18O values and a wider range (8.2% +/- 1.7%). These data reflect fundamental differences in crustal evolution and maturation between the Superior and the Grenville provinces. In the Grenville Province, radiogenically juvenile supracrustal material with high delta 18O values was buried (or subducted) to the base of the crust within 150 m.y. of initial crust production, causing high magmatic delta 18O values (delta 18O [zircon] > or = 8%) in anorthosite suite and subsequent plutons. Information about large volumes and rapid recycling of Grenville crust is not accessible from radiogenic isotope data alone. The Grenville data contrast with the restricted delta 18O values of Superior Province magmatism, where subtle ( approximately 1%) elevation in delta 18O occurs only in volumetrically minor, late to postorogenic (sanukitoid) plutons. Differences in sediment delta 18O values between the Superior and Grenville provinces are predominantly a function of the delta 18O of source materials, rather than differences in chemical maturity or erosion styles. This study shows that zircon is a robust reference mineral to compare igneous processes in rocks that have undergone radically different histories.

Geological evidence suggests that Earth may have had surface water - and thus conditions to support life - billions of years earlier than previously thought.
                      Scientists reconstructed the portrait of early Earth by reading the tell tale chemical composition of the oldest known terrestrial rock. The 4.4-billion year-old mineral sample suggests that early Earth was not a boiling ocean of magma, but instead was cool enough for water, continents, and conditions that could have supported life. The age of the sample may also undermine accepted current views on how and when the moon was formed. The research is published in this week's issue of the journal Nature.  "This appears to be evidence of the earliest existence of liquid water on our planet," says Margaret Leinen, assistant director of NSF for geosciences. "If water occurred this early in the evolution of earth, it is possible that primitive life, too, occurred at this time."
                      By probing a tiny grain of zircon, a mineral commonly used to determine the geological age of rocks, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Colgate University, Curtin University in Australia and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have found evidence that 4.4 billion years ago, temperatures had cooled to the 100-degree Centigrade range, a discovery that suggests an early Earth far different from the one previously imagined.
                      "This is an astounding thing to find for 4.4 billion years ago," says John Valley, a geologist at UW-Madison. "At that time, the Earth's surface should have been a magma ocean. Conventional wisdom would not have predicted a low-temperature environment. These results may indicate that the Earth cooled faster than anyone thought." Previously, the oldest evidence for liquid water on Earth, a precondition and catalyst for life, was from a rock estimated to be 3.8 billion years old.
                      The accepted view on an infant Earth is that shortly after it first formed 4.5 to 4.6 billion years ago, the planet became little more than a swirling ball of molten metal and rock. Scientists believed it took a long time, perhaps 700 million years, for the Earth to cool to the point that oceans could condense from a thick, Venus-like atmosphere. For 500 million to 600 million years after the Earth was formed, the young planet was subject to intense meteorite bombardment. About 4.45 billion years ago, a Mars-size object is believed to have slammed into the Earth, creating the moon by blasting pieces of the infant planet into space.
                      The new picture of the earliest Earth is based on a single, tiny grain of zircon from western Australia found and dated by Simon Wilde, of the School of Applied Geology at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. Valley worked with William Peck, a geologist at Colgate University, to analyze oxygen isotope ratios, measure rare earth elements, and determine element composition in a grain of zircon that measured little more  than the diameter of two human hairs. Colin Graham's laboratory analyzed the zircon to obtain the oxygen isotope ratios. Graham is a contributor to the paper and geochemist at the University of Edinburgh.
                      "What the oxygen isotopes and rare earth analysis show us is a high oxygen isotope ratio that is not common in other such minerals from the first half of the Earth's history," Peck says. In other words, the chemistry of the mineral and the rock in which it developed could only have formed from material in a low-temperature environment at Earth's surface.
                      "This is the first evidence of crust as old as 4.4 billion years, and indicates the development of continental-type crust during intense meteorite bombardment of the early Earth," Valley says. "It is possible that the water-rock interaction (as represented in the ancient zircon sample) could have occurred during this bombardment, but between cataclysmic events."
                      Scientists have been searching diligently to find samples of the Earth's oldest rocks. Valley and Peck say such ancient samples are extremely rare because rock is constantly recycled or sinks to the hot mantle of the Earth. Over the great spans of geologic time, there is little surface material that has not been recycled and reprocessed in this way.
                      The tiny grain of zirconium silicate or zircon found by Wilde in western Australia was embedded in a larger sample containing fragments of material from many different rocks, Valley says. Zircons dated at 4.3 billion years were reported from the same site a decade ago, but the new-found zircon grain is more than 100 million years older than any other known sample, giving scientists a rare window to the earliest period of the Earth.
                      "This early age restricts theories for the formation of the moon," Valley says. "Perhaps the moon formed earlier than we thought, or by a different process." Another intriguing question is whether or not life may have arisen at that early time. Low temperatures and water are preconditions for life. The earliest known biochemical evidence for life and for a hydrosphere is estimated at 3.85 billion years ago, and the oldest microfossils are 3.5 billion years old.
                      "It may have been that life evolved and was completely extinguished several times" in catastrophic, meteorite-triggered extinction events well before that, Valley says.

Primodial air may have been 'breathable' - Journal of the geological Society Web site,  January 10, 2002
                     The Earth may have had an oxygen-rich atmosphere as long ago as three billion years and possibly even earlier,  three leading geologists have claimed.
                      Their theory challenges long-held ideas about when the Earth's atmosphere became enriched with oxygen, and pushes the likely date for formation of an atmosphere resembling today's far back into the early history of the planet.
                      It may also revolutionise the worldwide search for gold and other minerals, and raises new questions about when and how life could have arisen.
                      Evidence for the presence of oxygen in the primitive atmosphere was put forward
by the Chief of CSIRO Exploration and Mining Professor Neil Phillips, Australian-based South African geologist (picture) Mr Jonathan Law and US gold  mining consultant Dr Russell Myers in a publication by the Society for Economic
                      "These findings may have enormous economic implications in that we may simply have been looking in the wrong places for massive gold deposits like South Africa's Witwatersrand," says Professor Phillips. "Or we may actually have found them - and not recognised them for what they are, because we did not understand the processes involved in their formation."
                      The scientists base their case on the presence of iron-rich nodules in the deep strata of the Witwatersrand -
 nodules they believe are pisoliths, small balls containing ferric iron produced by exposure to an oxygen-rich air. Pisoliths still form nowadays and provide important clues in the search for minerals, including gold. Those found in  the Rand come from levels 3-4 kilometres down, which are securely dated at 2.7 to 2.8 billion years old. The researchers' theory has been lent additional weight by evidence from the Western Australian Pilbara region for the presence of sulphates in rocks up to 3.5 billion years old. These, too, could not have formed without an oxygen-rich atmosphere.
                      Pisoliths have been a vital tool in the discovery of A$5 billion worth of new gold deposits in WA in recent years,  using techniques developed by CSIRO's Dr Ray Smith, Dr Charles Butt and Dr Ravi Anand. The small iron-rich balls form from iron in groundwater and 'scavenge' traces of other minerals in the local environment. They provide clues, like fingerprints, which point to deposits lying hidden beneath metres of inscrutable surface rubble.
                      By analysing pisoliths over a wide area for gold content, geologists can construct a pattern of steadily enriching traces, with the hidden deposit lying like a bullseye at the heart of it, usually a bit uphill. Some geologists believe living organisms may play a part in the formation of pisoliths, raising tantalising  questions about the nature and role of life in shaping the Earth's early surface and mineralisation.
                      The presence of pisoliths in the deep strata of the Rand suggests that the conditions for mineral formation 3
 billion years or so ago were different to what many geologists have believed for the past half-century, the team say. These ideas have already been integrated into a new exploration model for the formation of the Rand deposits by the same researchers.
                      The Rand is unique on Earth - a vast body of rock very rich in gold. The mightiest gold deposit ever found. Nothing like it has been discovered elsewhere.  Professor Phillips says that this may be because we didn't know what to look for, because we made wrong assumptions about the conditions in which it formed.  In other words, fresh Rands may still await discovery. Some geologists speculate one of them, at least, lies in central Western Australia .

Kerrich, Robert and Ludden, John N., 2000. The role of fluids during formation and evolution of the southern Superior Province
   lithosphere; an overview.  In: The Lithoprobe Abitibi-Grenville transect--Le transect d'Abitibi-Grenville du projet
   Lithoprobe. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences , 37; 2-3, Pages 135-164.
      Models for fluid flow and hydrothermal alteration for the Abitibi greenstone belt are reviewed in the light of Lithoprobe results in the region. In the Abitibi greenstone belt, eruption of volcanic sequences over 2750-2700 Ma was accompanied by pervasive low-temperature hydrothermal alteration at high water/rock ratios, giving systematic (super 18) O-enrichment.
   Archean ambient ocean water bottom temperatures were likely ca. 30 degrees C, and delta (super 18) O approximately 0+ or -1 per mil. Chert-iron formations precipitated from low temperature hydrothermal discharge. Base metal massive sulphide deposits formed at or near the seafloor from focussed discharge of high-temperature ( approximately 300-400 degrees
   C) fluids in convective cells sited above subvolcanic intrusions. The ore fluids were evolved seawater that had undergone compositional and isotopic evolution by high-temperature, low water/rock exchange with the volcanic pile to NaCl (3-7 wt.%) or CaCl (sub 2) -NaCl (up to 30 wt.%) brines of delta (super 18) O = 0-8 per mil. These volcanic associated hydrothermal
   deposits are associated with greenstone belt assemblages in the northern Abitibi subprovince that were emplaced as a series of thrust slices over the Opatica plutonic belt. In the southern Abitibi subprovince the hydrothermal deposits were associated with a series of rift basins (Noranda, Val d'Or, etc.), formed on top of accreted oceanic assemblages comprising
   primitive arcs and plateaus, or in protoarcs, and associated with oblique convergence. Contemporaneous erosion of emergent arcs and the older cratonic provenance terrane of the Pontiac subprovince by orographic rainfall, and submarine weathering, fed first-cycle volcanogenic sediments to depositional basins in the Abitibi, but siliciclastic sediments of
   mixed old 3 Ga continent and 2.7 Ga arc provenance in the Pontiac subprovince. Abitibi subprovince turbidites were more weathered and (super 18) O-enriched than Pontiac subprovince equivalents. Subduction-accretion assembly of the Opatica-Abitibi and Pontiac terranes involved allochthonous thrusting of the Abitibi subprovince over the Pontiac
   subprovince. There were several pulses of granitoid magmatism during accretionary assembly over 2695 to 2674 Ma. Syn- to late-tectonic tonalites were generated by melting of hot young hydrous ocean crust in a shallow-dipping intraoceanic subduction zone. The intrusions exsolved small quantities of magmatic fluids that formed Cu-Zn showings. Late-tectonic
   shoshonites formed at > or =80 km in subarc mantle wedge by slab dehydration-wedge melting. This late-stage of arc development involved transfer of significant quantities of gas-rich alkaline magmas 80+ km through the lithosphere along the accretionary terrane bounding structures, and produced small phosphorus and barite deposits. Synmagmatic
   metamorphism was of the high-temperature low-pressure type, and occurred in several pulses; water/rock ratios were generally low distal from structures. Tens of thousands of cubic kilometres of fluids generated by dehydration reactions at the base of the subduction-accretion complex, during thermal relaxation following collision and the main granitoid pulses, advected up terrane boundary structures and locally generated lode gold deposits. At the highest structural levels these fluids mixed with Archean meteoric water where delta (super 18) O<0. A second metamorphism (M2) occurred over 2645 to 2611 Ma leading to melting of Pontiac sediments and formation of S-type granites. Deposits of Mo, Th, and P were precipitated from magmatic fluids of delta (super 18) O 8-9 per mil. M2 variably reset radiogenic and stable isotope systems in nonrobust minerals of volcanogenic massive sulphide and lode gold deposits. Hypersaline CaCl (sub 2) formation brines evolved in
   Paleoproterozoic glaciogenic sediments; these penetrated into the Archean basement where they redistributed gold and are pervasively present as low-temperature secondary brine inclusions. The Matachewan (2.5 Ga) and Hearst dyke swarms drove higher temperature advection of the brines, and Ag-Co-Ni sulpharsenide deposits formed by thermal evolution of
   the brines driven by the Nipissing diabase dyke swarm at approximately 2219 Ma. Local resetting of (super 40) Ar/ (super 39) Ar spectra between 2550 and 2200 Ma was the product of tectonic pumping of fluids along reactivated Archean structures, possibly due to coupling of the 200 km thick mantle lithosphere to Archean crust. Seismic evidence for late overprinting of
   the lower crust and growth of 2450 Ma zircon rims in lower crustal assemblages were associated with this event. There was also fluid activity at 1950 to 1850 Ma due to the Hudsonian orogen induced Kapuskasing event. Hypersaline CaCl (sub 2) -rich brines formed in the Paleozoic sedimentary cover ( approximately 500 Ma), penetrated deep (>5 km) into the Archean basement, and comprise vast reservoirs of hypersaline brines deep in the Shield. The brines precipitated prehnite-laumontite veins that record hundreds of increments of dilation. Subglacial (super 18) O-depleted fluids penetrated to shallow (> or =1 km) depths in the Quaternary; they form mixing lines with the hypersaline end member. Extremely D-depleted (-400 to -100 per mil) CH (sub 4) and H discharge in mining districts of the Shield. The depleted H may form by radiolysis of H (sub 2) O and (or) by a Fischer-Tropsch type process. The hypersaline brine end-member was shifted to the left of the meteoric water line by exchange with D-depleted H.

       Huston-David-L; Taylor-Bruce-E; Bleeker-Wouter; Watanabe-Donald-H, 1996. Productivity of volcanic-hosted massive sulfide districts; new constraints from the delta 18O of quartz phenocrysts in cogenetic felsic rocks. Bull. Geological Society of America,  24,  5,  p. 459-462.
        AB: A correlation has been established between Zn productivity of volcanic-hosted massive sulfide districts and delta 18O of quartz phenocrysts from cogenetic rhyolitic rocks. In   highly productive districts, ores are associated with rhyolitic rocks, of possible S-type affinity, containing high delta 18O quartz phenocrysts. In less-productive districts, ores are  associated with I-type rhyolitic rocks with low delta 18O phenocrysts. This correlation  may be caused by (1) low-temperature isotopic alteration that produced 18O-rich  overgrowths on phenocrysts, and (2) emplacement of transitional S-type intrusions at greater depths than I-type intrusions, resulting in larger hydrothermal cells and allowing leaching of  more Zn. The latter hypothesis is favored.

There’s bugs in them thar rocks - from Geological Society Web site, March 22, 2002, US scientists confirm biological origin of earliest fossils

                     UCLA paleobiologist J. William Schopf and colleagues have substantiated the biological origin of the earliest
 known cellular fossils, which are 3.5 billion years old. The research was published in the March 7 issue of the
 journal Nature.
                      Schopf and a team of scientists at the University of Alabama, Birmingham have devised a new technique using an unique laser-Raman imaging system that enables them to look inside of rocks and determine what they are made of, providing a molecular map.
                      "This new technique is a tremendous breakthrough, and is something we have sought for 25 years" Schopf said.
 "Because Raman spectroscopy is non-intrusive, non-destructive and particularly sensitive to the distinctive
 carbon signal of organic matter of living systems, it is an ideal technique for studies of ancient microscopic
 fossils. Raman imagery can show a one-to-one correlation between cell shape and chemistry, and prove whether
 fossils are biological."
                      Schopf and his colleagues applied the new technique to ancient fossil microbe-like objects, including the oldest specimens reported from the geological record.  "There is no question at all that we have substantiated the biological origin of the oldest fossils now known" Schopf said. "We have established that the ancient specimens are made of organic matter just like living microbes, and no non-biological organic matter is known from the geological record. In science, facts always
 prevail, and the facts here are quite clear."

Erosion's a gas -  Geological Society web site, March 21, 2002,  Martian surface features were eroded by liquid carbon dioxide, not running water, researchers say

                     Scientists have provided new evidence that liquid carbon dioxide, not running water, may have beeen the primary cause of erosional features such as gullies, valley networks, and channels that cover the surface of
Mars. Research suggesting that condensed carbon dioxide found in Martian crust carved these features is reported by Kenneth L. Tanaka and colleagues at the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the University of Melbourne, Australia, appeared this month in Geophysical Research Letters, published by the American Geophysical Union.
                      Using Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) data, Tanaka and his
 colleagues constructed elevation profiles of the Hellas basin, which, at 2000 kilometres wide and nine kilometres deep, is the largest well-preserved impact basin on Mars. By examination of digitally created elevation profiles with 500-metre resolution, they found that the volcanic regions of Malea and Hesperia Plana, along the rim of the Hellas basin, are several hundred meters [yards] lower than adjacent rim sectors. Additionally, these areas lack the prominent triangular peaks, called massifs, that are common in nearby areas.
                      Along the inner slopes of these regions, the researchers found, however, evidence of old massifs covered by
  volcanic rocks. They are too low to be covered, if there were volcanic activity today. The researchers suggest as an explanation that prior to volcanic activity, these regions along the rim of the basin resembled nearby areas, but  were eroded to their present-day elevations following the emplacement of the volcanic rocks.
                      Tanaka and his colleagues propose a "magmatic erosion model" to explain the features of the volcanic areas of
Malea and Hesperia Plana, suggesting that they underwent catastrophic erosion associated with explosive
eruptions of molten rock. They suggest that liquid in the Martian crust was heated when molten rock, or magma,
 rose to the surface. As the liquid was heated, it expanded, until the pressure of overlying material was too great,
 and an explosive eruption occurred, shattering overlying rock, and causing it to move with the magma in an
 erosive debris flow.
                      The authors believe that the fluid in the crust along this area of the rim of the Hellas basin was mainly liquid carbon dioxide. A debris flow dominated by carbon dioxide would flow faster and farther than a water-based flow, they
 say. Also, carbon dioxide is more volatile than water at lower temperatures, and the cold temperatures found on
Mars would mean that less carbon dioxide-based magma would be required to produce the observed erosion
  than magma containing mainly water.
                      The researchers suggest that this mechanism of erosion can also explain collapse features and channels
 elsewhere on Mars. They also note, however, that their model is based on a variety of assumptions that must be
 further tested.


Continental Growth through time (15cntgrw.gif)

Structural Provinces of the Canadian Shield (14strprv.gif)

Subprovinces of the Superior Province

Timmins Kirkland Lake Noranda area

The Kirkland Lake area

The Slave Province

Major dike swarms of the southern Superior Province

    Isotopic ages - Abitibi belt

2980 single grain in Timiskaming, Davis 1991

2900 oldest Michipicoten volcanics, Corfu and Sage 1992

2840 - 2760 20% of detrital zircons from Abitibi belt sediments, Davis 1991

2750 - 2720 xenocrystic zircons in porphyry and lamprophyre of Larder Lake

2747 Pacaud tuffs, Mortensen 1993

2736 Older Temagami volcanics, Bowins and Heaman 1992

2730-2725 Normetal - Hunter Mine, Lac Abitibi region = Deloro, Timmins area

2727 Upper Deloro, Corfu et al. 1989

2725 Majority of detrital zircons in Abitibi belt sediments

2724 Mattagami volcanics, Ep = 2.5, Vervoort et al 1991

2717 Kidd Creek, Barrie et al. 1988 (quoted by Davis et al 1991); Schandle et al. 1990

2714-2713 Hunter Mine volcanics, Corfu et al 1989

2710-2700 Youngest Michipicoten volcanics, Corfu and Sage 1992

2705 Larder Lake; Corfu et al. 1989; Blake River volcanics, Machado et al. 1991

= Columbiere rhyolite of Val d'Or, Mortensen 1993

2703 Upper Tisdale Corfu et al. 1989

2701 Blake River Gp., Skead Gp., Corfu et al 1989

2698 Upper Tisdale Krist Pyroclastic = Clericy rhyolite of the Blake River, Mortensen 1993

trondjemite bounder in Dore conglomerate of Michipicoten, Corfu and Sage 1992

2696-2670 Sanukitoids, Ep 1.8-3.7

2695-2688 thrusting of 2700 volcanics over 2750-2720 volcanics in the Larder Lake region

2693 (2703-2683) hydrothermal zircons, quartz-tourmaline-gold veins (Kerrich & Kyser, 1994)

2687 lamprophyre, Barrie & Tucker 1990 (Au is younger); youngest zircons in the Kewagama;

Younger Temagami volcanics, Bowins and Heaman, 1992

2686 Baie de Lys gneiss, Lac Simard Nord monzonite Machado et al. 1991;

to 2680 detrital zircons in the Timiskaming, Corfu et al. 1991

2685+3 Bidgood qtz porphyry, Corfu et al. 1991

2683 minimum age of Kewagama

2682 Clericy syenite (cuts Kewegama), Mortensen 1993

2681 Younger detrital zircons in Central and Northern Michipicoten; seds cut by 2671 granodiorite Corfu and Sage 1992

2680 Otto stock ?; 2679 maximum age of Timiskaming

2678 Lac Maple granodiorite (has inherited zircons of 2692), Machado et al 1991

2677 +3 porphyry dike cutting Timiskaming of Larder Lake region

= volcanic agglom. of the Bear Lake Fm north of Larder Lake

=minimum age of Timiskaming

2673 titanite in lamprophyre, Wyman and Kerrich 1987

2671+8 Otto stock, ion probe age, Ben Othman 1990 Ep volcanics = 2.5+1.5

Michipicoten granodiorite, Corfu and Sage 1992

2669 Belleterre monzodiorite Machado et al. 1991

2660 concordant titanite in Opatica gneiss = metamorphic episode, Machado et al. 1992

2645 Most S-granites in the Pontiac, range 2663-2611, Feng and Kerrich 1991

2637 concordant titanite in Baie de Lys gneiss = metamorphic episode, Machado et al. 1992

2632 Halle intrusive (inherited zircons of 2702) = ae of Au mineralization, Machado et al. 1992

2624+6 Hydrothermal rutile, Kidd volcanic centre, Schandle et al. 1990

2630-2579 U-Pb ages on gold vein rutile and titanite (Kerrich and Kyser, 1994)


Structural Provinces of North America.


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