Earth’s punctuated tectonic evolution: cause and effect
C. O’Neill, A. Lenardic, K. C. Condie, 2015. "Earth’s punctuated tectonic evolution: cause and effect", Continent Formation Through Time, N. M. W. Roberts, M. Van Kranendonk, S. Parman, S. Shirey, P. D. Clift
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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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The continental crust is our archive of Earth history, and the store of many natural resources; however, many key questions about its formation and evolution remain debated and unresolved:
What processes are involved in the formation, differentiation and evolution of continental crust, and how have these changed throughout Earth history?
How are plate tectonics, the supercontinent cycle and mantle cooling linked with crustal evolution?
What are the rates of generation and destruction of the continental crust through time?
How representative is the preserved geological record?
A range of approaches are used to address these questions, including field-based studies, petrology and geochemistry, geophysical methods, palaeomagnetism, whole-rock and accessory-phase isotope chemistry and geochronology. Case studies range from the Eoarchaean to Phanerozoic, and cover many different cratons and orogenic belts from across the continents.