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Abstract

The assumptions underlying the models used in the literature for obtaining the age of the Earth from terrestrial lead isotopes are severely violated by the complex evolution of the Earth, particularly the extreme chemical fractionation occurring during crust-mantle differentiation. Young conformable lead deposits are isotopically very similar to young sediments, the erosion products derived from the Earth’s most highly fractionated large-scale reservoir, the upper continental crust. Therefore, ancient conformable lead deposits are also likely to track continental compositions rather than the composition of any truly primitive reservoir.

Although the specific enrichment mechanisms during crust formation are both extreme and quite different for U and Pb, the net enrichments in the crust, as well as the corresponding depletions in the residual mantle, are on average very similar for the two elements. It is because of this geochemical coincidence that the time-integrated U/Pb ratios of conformable lead deposits, which integrate and average large volumes of crustal lead, are very close to average mantle values. For the same reason, the isotopic evolution of these conformable lead deposits follows an apparently (nearly) closed system evolution path of a 4.4 to 4.5 Ga-old U-Pb system rather closely, even though that system was actually very far from remaining chemically closed during its history. From these considerations I conclude that terrestrial Pb isotopes do not furnish a suitable tool for determining a refined estimate of the age of the Earth within the broad bounds of 4.4 and 4.56 Ga limits, which are given by other types of evidence, such as the ages of meteorites, the Moon, and the formation intervals of the Earth’s core and atmosphere derived from the decay products of short-lived, now-extinct nuclides.

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