Formation and evolution of Archaean cratons: insights from southern Africa
Published:January 01, 2002
D. E. James, M. J. Fouch, 2002. "Formation and evolution of Archaean cratons: insights from southern Africa", The Early Earth: Physical, Chemical and Biological Development, C. M. R. Fowler, C. J. Ebinger, C. J. Hawkesworth
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Archaean cratons are the stable remnants of Earth’s early continental lithosphere, and their structure, composition and survival over geological time make them unique features of the Earth’s surface. The Kaapvaal Project of southern Africa was organized around a broadly diverse scientific collaboration to investigate fundamental questions of craton formation and mantle differentiation in the early Earth. The principal aim of the project was to characterize the physical and chemical nature of the crust and mantle of the cratons of southern Africa in geological detail, and to use the 3D seismic and geochemical images of crustal and mantle heterogeneity to reconstruct the assembly history of the cratons. Seismic results confirm that the structure of crust and tectospheric mantle of the cratons differs significantly from that of post-Archaean terranes. Three-dimensional body-wave tomographic images reveal that high-velocity mantle roots extend to depths of at least 200 km, and locally to depths of 250–300 km beneath cratonic terranes. No low-velocity channel has been identified beneath the cratonic root. The Kaapvaal Craton was modified approximately 2.05 Ga by the Bushveld magmatic event, and the mantle beneath the Bushveld Province is characterized by relatively low seismic velocities. The crust beneath undisturbed Archaean craton is relatively thin (c. 35–40 km), unlayered and characterized by a strong velocity contrast across a sharp Moho, whereas post-Archaean terranes and Archaean regions disrupted by large-scale Proterozoic magmatic or tectonic events are characterized by thicker crust, complex Moho structure and higher seismic velocities in the lower crust. A review of Re-Os depletion model age determinations confirms that the mantle root beneath the cratons is Archaean in age. The data show also that there is no apparent age progression with depth in the mantle keel, indicating that its thickness has not increased over geological time. Both laboratory experiments and geochemical results from eclogite xenoliths suggest that subduction processes played a central role in the formation of Archaean crust, the melt depletion of Archaean mantle and the assembly of early continental lithosphere. Co-ordinated geochronological studies of crustal and mantle xenoliths have revealed that both crust and mantle have experienced a multi-stage history. The lower crust in particular retains a comprehensive record of the tectonothermal evolution of the lithosphere. Analysis of lower-crustal xenoliths has shown that much of the deep craton experienced a dynamic and proteracted history of tectonothermal activity that is temporally associated with events seen in the surface record. Cratonization thus occurred not as a discrete event, but in stages, with final stabilization postdating crustal formation.
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The Early Earth: Physical, Chemical and Biological Development
This volume contains a series of papers that cover a wide range of aspects, including geophysics, structure and tectonics, atmosphere, origin of life, biosphere, deep mantle geochemistry, early oceans, microbial ecology, on the development of the Earth in the first 2000 Ma of its history.The aim of this publication is to facilitate future discussions and understanding of this area of research.
This book is divided into three parts:
Geophysical and petrological constraints on Archaean lithosphere
Models of cratonic evolution and modification
Constraints on the Archaean environment
Subjects covered include the chemical and biological controls on the atmosphere and oceans, early controls on the carbon cycle and photosynthesis, petrologic, isotopic, tectonic and seismic evidence for the composition and structure of Archaean lithosphere.
This volume should be of interest to geologists and geophysicists who work on the Archaean, and students at all levels.