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Peaks in the Precambrian preserved crustal record are associated with major volcanic, tectonic and climatic events. These include addition of juvenile continental crust, voluminous high-temperature volcanism, massive mantle depletion, widespread orogeny and mineralization, large apparent polar wander velocity spikes, and subsequent palaeomagnetic intensity increases. These events impinge on the glaciation record, atmospheric and ocean chemistry, and on the rise of oxygen. Here we summarize and assess a number of geodynamic models that have been proposed to explain the observed episodicity in the Precambrian record. We find that episodic behaviour from nonlinear slab-driven models best explains the observed record. Examples of such slab-driven systems include mantle avalanches or episodic subduction. In these cases, rapid descent of slabs into the mantle drives fast plate motions and convergence at the surface. This is accompanied by large-scale upwellings of deep hot mantle, which contribute to voluminous volcanism. Further modelling will determine the relative importance of each mechanism, and reinforce the fundamental contribution of the mantle to the evolution of Earth’s surface systems.

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