Continental Growth and the Sedimentary Record

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Bruno Dhuime1, Chris J Hawkesworth1,2, Ruth A J Robinson3 and Peter A. Cawood2, (1)University of Bristol, School of Earth Sciences, Bristol, United Kingdom, (2)University of St Andrews, School of Earth Sciences, St Andrews, United Kingdom, (3)University of St Andrews, School of Earth Sciences, St Andrews, KY16, United Kingdom
Detrital sedimentary rocks provide average samples of the continental crust formed at different times and in different places. Some materials are more susceptible to erosion and/or to preservation bias than others, and one issue is to understand how the compositions of a range of source rocks are then recorded in the sediments. Here we considered two different approaches to model the growth of the continental crust:

(i) The variation of Nd isotopes in continental shales with different deposition ages, which requires a correction of the bias induced by preferential erosion of younger rocks through an erosion parameter usually referred to as 'K'. The determination of K, and the extent to which it varies in different erosion systems, thus have fundamental implications for the models of continental growth based on radiogenic isotopes in continental sediments.

(ii) The variations in U-Pb, Hf and O isotopes in detrital zircons, from ‘modern’ sediments sampled worldwide. In this approach, O isotopes are used to screen ‘hybrid’ Hf model ages (i.e. ages resulting from mixing processes of crustal material from different ages) from Hf model ages that represent actual crust formation ages.

These two approaches independently suggest that the continental crust has been generated continuously, but with a marked decrease in the continental growth rate at ~3 Ga. The >4 Ga to ~3 Ga period is characterised by relatively high net rates of continental growth (~3.0 km3.a-1), which are similar to the rates at which new crust is generated, and destroyed, at the present time. Net growth rates are much lower since 3 Ga (~0.8 km3.a-1), which may be attributed to higher rates of destruction of continental crust. The inflexion in the continental growth curve at ~3 Ga indicates a change in the way the crust was generated and preserved. This change may be linked to onset of subduction-driven plate tectonics and discrete subduction zones.