An Impaired View of Earth's Early History

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:45 PM
Jeffrey D. Vervoort1, Anthony I Kemp2, Ann Bauer3, Samuel A Bowring4 and Chris Fisher1, (1)Washington State University, Pullman, WA, United States, (2)University Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia, (3)Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, United States, (4)MIT, Cambridge, MA, United States
The Hf and Nd isotope records of Earth's early history are sparse, difficult to interpret, and controversial, much like the few remnants of crust older than 4 Ga. New analytical techniques have been brought to bear on this problem but despite this recent work­–or, perhaps, because of it–the record is no clearer than it was 15 years ago. Several studies, based on highly variable calculated initial isotopic compositions, have argued for highly heterogeneous crust and mantle reservoirs in the early Earth1,2 and an ultra-depleted Eoarchean mantle3. These data come mostly from two sources: Hf-Nd isotope analyses of ultramafic rocks and Hf isotope analyses of zircons by solution or laser ablation. An important question for understanding the chemical evolution of the early Earth is: Do these data offer a unique window into the early Earth or are they artefacts not representative of crust/mantle evolution, giving an impaired view of the Earth's early history? In complex samples, measured isotopic compositions can result from open-system behavior in easily altered ultramafic compositions, in multicomponent, polymetamorphic gneisses, or in zircons with multiple generations of growth. Perhaps most importantly, accurate age assignment is often lacking, compromised, or impossible in these rocks, making calculation of initial epsilon Hf and Nd values ambiguous at best. In order to gain insight into crust mantle evolution in the early Earth we need, above all, a robust and unambiguous isotopic record to work with. This can be achieved by integrating zircon U-Pb and Hf and whole-rock Hf and Nd isotope compositions in relatively undisturbed igneous rocks with well-constrained ages. When this approach is used apparent isotopic heterogeneity decreases and a simpler model for crust-mantle evolution in the early Earth emerges. Careful screening of geological relationships, petrology, and geochemistry of samples from the early Earth should be done before interpreting isotopic data. Indiscriminate inclusion of isotope data from disturbed and multicomponent rocks and zircons will do more to obscure our understanding of the Hf-Nd isotope evolution of the Earth than to clarify it.

 [1] Harrison et al. 2005, Science 310, 1947-1950.

[2] Blichert-Toft and Albarède, 2008, EPSL 265, 686-702.

[3] Hoffmann et al., 2010, GCA, 74, 7236–7260.