Isotopic and geochemical constraints
Published:January 01, 2008
Considerable geochemical evidence supports initiation of plate tectonics on Earth shortly after the end of the Hadean. Nb/Th and Th/U of mafic-ultramafic rocks from the depleted upper mantle began to change from 7 to 18.2 and 4.2 to 2.6 (respectively) at 3.6 Ga. This signals the appearance of subduction-altered slabs in general mantle circulation from subduction initiated by 3.9 Ga. Juvenile crustal rocks began to show derivation from progressively depleted mantle with typical igneous ɛNd: ɛHf = 1:2 after 3.6 Ga. Cratons with stable mantle keels that have subduction imprints began to appear by at least 3.5 Ga. These changes all suggest that extraction of continental crust by plate tectonic processes was progressively depleting the mantle from 3.6 Ga onwards. Neoarchean subduction appears largely analogous to present subduction except in being able to produce large cratons with thick mantle keels. The earliest Eoarchean juvenile rocks and Hadean zircons have isotopic compositions that reflect the integrated effects of separation of an early enriched reservoir and fractionation of Ca-silicate and Mg-silicate perovskite from the terrestrial magma oceans associated with Earth accretion and Moon formation, superposed on subsequent crustal processes. Hadean zircons most likely were derived from a continent-absent, mafic to ultramafic protocrust that was multiply remelted between 4.4 and 4.0 Ga under wet conditions to produce evolved felsic rocks. If the protocrust was produced by global mantle overturn at ca. 4.4 Ga, then the transition to plate tectonics resulted from radioactive decay-driven mantle heating. Alternatively, if the protocrust was produced by typical mantle convection, then the transition to plate tectonics resulted from cooling to the extent that large lithospheric plates stabilized.