When and how did continental crust form?submitted by David Mogk, Montana State University
Why is this question important?The genesis and evolution of continental crust is one of the fundamental questions that remains unresolved in the geosciences. Models that have been proposed for crustal growth include:
- early extraction of all the crust from the mantle
- long-term growth or
- episodic periods of crustal growth? Did most of the crust form by the end of the Late Archean?
The purpose of this exercise is to help students explore these questions through guided discovery of the primary scientific literature to find and critically evaluate the major lines of evidence that address these various models for crustal genesis and evolution.
What we know...To address these questions it's convenient to start with the compilation of crustal growth models from Taylor and Mclennan (1985):
The figure above presents a summary of the crustal growth models which includes the following authors' work:
- Early differentiation of virtually all of the continental crust at ca. 3.9 Ga ago and subsequent steady state recycling of this crust. Proponents of this model are:
- Fyfe W. S. (1978) Evolution of the Earth's crust: modern plate tectonics to ancient hot spot tectonics? Chemical Geology 23 89.
- Armstrong R. L. 1981 Radiogenic isotopes: the case for crustal recycling on a near steady-state no continental growth Earth. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. A301 443.
- Uniform growth rate or accelerated growth rate was proposed by:
- Hurley P. M. 1968 Absolute abundance and distribution of Rb K and Sr in the Earth. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 32 273.
- Hurley P. M. and Rand J. R. 1969 Pre-drift continental nuclei Science 164 1229.
- Episodic growth of continental crust was proposed by
- Veizer J. and Jansen S.L. 1979 Basement and sedimentary recycling and continental evolution Jour. Geol. 87 341.
- McLellan S.M. and Taylor R. S. 1982 Geochemical constraints on the growth of the continental crust. Jour. Geol. 90 342.
A good summary of the question of continental crustal evolution can be found in the review article by Taylor S. R. and McLennan S. M. 1995 The Geochemical Evolution of the Continental Crust Reviews of Geophysics 22 #2 May p. 241-265.To fully address these questions it is necessary to integrate data about:
- the composition of the mantle (depleted and undepleted)
- whole rock and trace element data of crustal rocks
- data from numerous isotopic systems: U-Pb Nd-Sm Lu-Hf Re-Os etc.
- estimates of the heat budget of the Earth and how this has been distributed throughout Earth history.
How to link this topic to the classroomFollowing the recommendations of Science for All Americans (AAAS 1990) (more info) teaching should be consistent with the nature of scientific inquiry:
- Start with questions about nature.
- Engage students actively.
- Concentrate onthe collection and use of evidence.
- Provide historical perspectives.
- Use a team approach.
- Do not separate knowing from finding out.
Suggested Teaching ActivitiesGiven the extensive literature on the composition and evolution of continental crust there are a number of teaching strategies that can be employed to encourage active learning by students. A critical reading of this collection of articles will provide students with a good opportunity to evaluate the chemical isotopic and physical evidence that has led to the development of these models of continental crustal growth.
- Whole-rock and Rare Earth Element data
- U-Pb (zircon) data and Pb-Pb whole rock and mineral data
- Nd-Sm isotope systematics
- Lu-Hf isotope systematics ... and other systems such as Re-Os.
Cam Davidson at Carleton College provides guidelines for learning exercises to help students learn how to read the primary literature learn how to formulate questions based on reading learn how to choose one or two main points from a paper and present these ideas to their peers learn to organize the ideas and questions of peers and lead a discussion based on those questions. See his exercise on Friday Forum: Reading From the Primary Literature
Here is an example of a literature-based assignment using this topic, submitted by Dr. Lindy Elkins-Stanton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scientific Paper Reading: Continental Growth (Microsoft Word 42kB Jul17 07)
References and other Resources
- Bedard J. H. 2006 A catalytic delamination-driven model for coupled genesis of Archaean crust and sub-continental lithospheric mantle: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta v. 70 p. 1188-1214.
Bennett V. C. 2003 Chapter 2 - Compositional evolution of the mantle in Carlson R. W. ed. Teatise On Geochmistry: Vol. 2 The Mantle: New York Elsevier p. 493-519.
Bennett V. C. Brandon A. D. Heiss J. and Nutman A. P. 2007 Coupled 142Nd 143Nd and 176Hf isotopic data from 3.6-3.9 Ga rocks: new constraints on the timing and composition of early terrestrial chemical reservoirs 38th Lunar Science Conference: Houston TX.
Bowring S. A. and Housh T. 1995 The Earth's early evolution: Science v. 269 p. 1535-1540.
Boyet M. and Carlson R. W. 2005 142Nd evidence for early (>4.53 Ga) global differentiation of the silicate Earth: Science v. 309 p. 576-581.
Boyet M. and Carlson R. W. 2006 A new geochemical model for the Earth's mantle inferred from 146Sm-142Ndsystematics: Earth and Planetary Science Letters v. 250 p. 254-268.
Cavosie A. J. Valley J. W. and Wilde S. A. 2005 Magmatic _18O in 4400-3900 Ma detrital zircons; a record of the alteration and recycling of crust in the early Archean: Earth and Planetary Science Letters v. 235 p. 663-681.
Chase C. G. and Patchett P. J. 1988 Stored mafic/ultramafic crust and early Archean mantle depletion: Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. v. 91 p. 66-72.
Coogan L. A. and Hinton R. W. 2006 Do the trace element compositions of detrital zircons require Hadean continental crust?: Geology v. 34 p. 633-636.
Farquhar J. Wing B. McKeegan K. D. and Harris J. W. 2002a Insight into crust-mantle coupling from anomalous _33S of sulfide inclusions in diamonds Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta p. 225.
Griffin W. L. Belousova E. A. Shee S. R. Pearson N. J. and O'Reilly S. Y. 2004 Archean crustal evolution in the northern Yilgarn Craton; U-Pb and Hf-isotope evidence from detrital zircons in Van Kranendonk M. J. ed. Archaean tectonics; volume 2: 4th international Archean symposium Perth West. Aust. Australia Sept. 24-28 2001 Precambrian Research v. 131 p. 231-282.
Gurnis M. 1988 Large-scale mantle convection and the aggregation and dispersal of supercontinents: Nature v. 332 p. 695-699.
Harrison T. M. Blichert-Toft J. Mueller W. Albarede F. Holden P. and Mojzsis S. J. 2005 Heterogeneous Hadean hafnium; evidence of continental crust at 4.4 to 4.5 Ga: Science v. 310 p. 1947-1950. (full text)
Hawkesworth C. J. and Kemp A.I. S. 2006 Evolution of the continental crust (abstract) Nature 443 811-817. (abstract)
Hofmann A. W. 1988 Chemical differentiation of the Earth: the relationship between mantle continental crust and oceanic crust: Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. v. 90 p. 297- 314.
Jordan T. H. 1981 Continents as a chemical boundary layer: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London v. A 301 p. 359-373.
Kamber B. S. Greig A. Schoenberg R. and Collerson K. D. 2003b A refined solution to Earth's hidden niobium: Implications for evolution of continental crust and depth of core formation: Precamb. Res. v. 126 p. 289-308.
Kamber B. S. Whitehouse M. J. Bolhar R. and Moorbath S. 2005 Volcanic resurfacing and the early terrestrial crust: Zircon U-Pb and REE constraints from the Isua Greenstone Belt southern West Greenland: Earth and Planetary Science Letters v. 240 p. 276-290.
Kramers J. D. 2007 Hierarchical Earth accretion and the Hadean Eon: Journal of the Geological Society of London v. 164 p. 3-17.
Lenardic A. Moresi L. N. Jellinek A. M. and Manga M. 2005 Continental insulation mantle cooling and the surface area of oceans and continents: Earth and Planetary Science Letters v. 234 p. 317-333.
Mojzsis, S.J., Harrison, T.M. and Pidgeon, R.T. 2001 Oxygen-isotope evidence from ancient zircons for liquid water at the Earth's surface 4,300 Myr ago Nature 409, 178-181 (11 January 2001) (abstract)
Oversby V. M. 1975 Lead isotopic systematics and ages of Archaean acid intrusives in the Kalgoorlie-Norseman area Western Australia: Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta v. 39 p. 1107-1125.
Pearson D. G. Canil D. and Shirey S. B. 2003 Chapter 7 - Mantle samples included in volcanic rocks: xenoliths and diamonds in Carlson R. W. ed. Treatise On Geochmistry: Vol. 2 The Mantle: New York Elsevier p. 171-277.
Rudnick Roberta L. 1995 Making Continental crust Nature 378 571-578. (abstract)
Rudnick R. L. 1990 Continental Crust: Growing from Below Nature 347 711-712.
Rudnick R. L. and Fountain D. 1995 Nature and composition of the continental crust; a lower crustal perspective Rev. Geophysics vol 33 #3 267-310.
Stein M. and Hofmann A. W. 1994 Mantle plumes and episodic crustal growth: Nature v. 372 p. 63-68.
Taylor S. R. and McLennan S. M. 1995 The geochemical evolution of the continental crust: Reviews of Geophysics v. 33 p. 241-265.
Watson E. B. and Harrison T. M. 2005 Zircon thermometer reveals minimum melting conditions on earliest Earth: Science v. 308 p. 841-844. (abstract)
Whitehouse M. J. and Kamber B. S. 2002 On the overabundance of light rare earth elements in terrestrial zircons and its implication for Earth's earliest magmatic differentiation: Earth and Planetary Science Letters v. 204 p. 333-346.
Wilde S. A. Valley J. W. Peck W. H. and Graham C. M. 2001 Evidence from detrital zircons for the existence of continental crust and oceans on the Earth 4.4 Gyr ago: Nature v. 409 p. 175-178. (abstract)
Zartman R. E. and Haines S. 1988 The plumbotectonic model for Pb isotopic systematics among major terrestrial reservoirs - A case for bi-directional transport: Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta v. 52 p. 1327-1339.
Zartman R. E. and Richardson S. H. 2005 Evidence from kimberlitic zircon for a decreasing mantle Th/U since the Archean: Chemical Geology v. 220 p. 263- 283.