Increased use of continental crust during supercontinent amalgamation

Roberts, Nick M.W.. 2012 Increased use of continental crust during supercontinent amalgamation. Gondwana Research, 21 (4). 994-1000.

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The volume of Earth's continental crust depends on the rate of addition of continental crust from the mantle compared to the rate of continental loss back to the mantle, which at present is roughly balanced. Models for the growth rate of continental crust vary, with isotope data suggesting various episodes of increased growth rate throughout Earth's history; these episodes have been correlated with the supercontinent cycle, but may be a consequence of preferential preservation of continental crust during these cycles. The global balance between addition and loss of continental crust is controlled by: 1) the extent of internal orogens versus exterior orogens, with the latter favouring continental addition, and 2) the balance between exterior orogens in retreating mode versus those in advancing mode, with the latter favouring continental loss. A greater balance of continental addition versus loss should exist during supercontinent break-up, due to a high magmatic flux in retreating accretionary orogens, whereas the amalgamation of supercontinents should involve increased continental loss due to increased sediment subduction and tectonic erosion. Zircon U–Pb and Hf isotopes provide insight to models of crustal growth rate since they sample the continental crust at their time of formation. Using the distribution of data within εHf(t)-time space of a global zircon database, it is demonstrated that the data are in accord with the concept of increased continental loss during supercontinent amalgamation. Periods featuring increased continental addition relative to continental loss, and hence increased continental crust growth rate, occur at ~ 1.7–1.2 Ga, ~ 0.85–0.75 Ga, and ~ 0.45–0.35 Ga, and follow the formation of the Columbia (Nuna), Rodinia and Gondwana supercontinents respectively. Distinct increases in continental loss compared to continental addition, i.e. decreased continental growth rate, occur at ~ 1.0–0.9 Ga, and ~ 0.6–0.55 Ga, correlating with the periods of Rodinia and Gondwana amalgamation respectively. Formation of Pangea by introversion rather than extroversion, means that continental addition in exterior orogens was concurrent with continental loss in interior orogens; a similar process may have been responsible for formation of the Columbia supercontinent. Peaks in the compilation of U–Pb zircon ages correlate with the timing of supercontinent amalgamation, and are likely to be a consequence of preferential preservation of continental crust during this part of the supercontinent cycle.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2010 > NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratory
Date made live: 19 Apr 2012 10:25 +0 (UTC)

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