Using Ancient Glacial Diamictites to Track the Compositional Evolution of the Upper Continental Crust
Abstract:V.M. Goldschmidt (1933) first suggested the use of Quaternary glacial till and loess to determine the average composition of the upper continental crust (UCC). We extend this approach back in time through the geochemical study of glacial diamictites from intervals of continental glaciation in the Paleozoic, Neoproterozoic, Paleoproterozoic, and Mesoarchean.
The diamictites record fundamental changes in the bulk composition of UCC through time, with the largest change occurring at the end of the Archean. Post-Archean diamictites have progressively lower Eu/Eu* and concentrations of 1st row transition metals (Sc, Cr, V, Ni, Co) and higher Th and U concentrations. δ18O whole-rock values steadily increase through the Precambrian, with average values of 6.0 ± 1.6, 8.3 ± 0.4, 12.3 ± 0.9 per mil for the Mesoarchean, Paleoproterozoic, and Neoproterozoic, respectively. All of these trends are consistent with production of a progressively more evolved UCC, which may reflect changes in the composition of primary crustal melts, as well as a change in the nature of intracrustal differentiation. Subtle increases in Lu/Hf through time imply the continual addition of juvenile crust from an increasingly depleted mantle reservoir, consistent with continuous continental growth rather than an Armstrong-like no-growth model, and suggesting that intracrustal differentiation is unlikely to be the sole driver of the other trends.
In addition to these uni-directional trends, Paleoproterozoic diamictites, which are dominated by 2.8 to 2.6 Ga provenance, show unique chemical characteristics (e.g., lowest Nb/Ta and highest La/Lu and Th/Nb). These features may reflect a distinctive geodynamic setting for the Neoarchean period, which was arguably the largest pulse of crustal growth in Earth’s history and was also accompanied by widespread cratonization.