Temporal Evolution of the Upper Continental Crust: Implications for the Mode of Crustal Growth and the Evolution of the Hydrosphere

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Roberta L Rudnick1, Richard M Gaschnig1, Su Li1, Ming Tang1, Lin Qiu2, John W Valley3, Claire Zurkowski1 and William F McDonough1, (1)University of Maryland College Park, Department of Geology, College Park, MD, United States, (2)Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States, (3)Univ Wisconsin Madison, Madison, WI, United States
The upper continental crust (UCC), the interface between the atmosphere and solid Earth, is the site of weathering that produces sedimentary rocks, influences ocean chemistry through runoff of soluble elements, and affects climate through CO2 draw-down. The UCC also contains more than 50% of the crust’s highly incompatible element budget (including K, Th, and U). Therefore, understanding its composition and evolution provides insight into how continents have formed, evolved, and interacted with the hydrosphere. New major and trace element compositions of >100 glacial diamictites and >100 Archean shales, plus δ7Li and δ18O for a subset of these samples, combined with data from the literature, show that the average composition of the UCC has changed through time, reflecting both the rise of atmospheric oxygen and its attendant effects on weathering, as well as the mode of crust formation and differentiation. Some changes that occur as a step function near the Archean/Proterozoic boundary (increased Th/U, decreased Mo/Pr, V/Lu) reflect the rise of oxygen at the great oxidation event (GOE) and its influence on chemical weathering signatures in the UCC. Other changes are more gradual with time (e.g., higher Th/Sc and δ18O, lower Ni/Co, La/Nb, Eu/Eu* and transition metal abundances) and reflect an UCC that has transitioned from a more mafic to a more felsic bulk composition, and which experienced increased interaction with the hydrosphere with time. The gradual nature of these compositional changes likely reflects the waning heat production of the Earth, rather than an abrupt change in tectonics or style of crust formation. These more gradual changes in crust composition, which contrast with the abrupt changes associated with the GOE, suggest that a fundamental change in the nature of crust differentiation is unlikely to be responsible for the rise of atmospheric oxygen (cf. Keller and Schoene, 2012). Indeed, it appears that the opposite may be true: that the rise of oxygen has influenced crust composition (and possibly differentiation).