Abstract

Proterozoic terranes in Australia record complex tectonic histories in the interval 1900– 1400 Ma that have previously been interpreted by means of simple intracratonic or plate-tectonic models. However, these models do not fully account for (1) repeated tectonic reactivation (both orogenesis and rifting), (2) mainly high-temperature–low-pressure metamorphism, (3) rifting and sag creating thick sedimentary basins, (4) the nature and timing of voluminous felsic magmatism, (5) relatively large aspect ratio orogenic belts, and (6) a general paucity of diagnostic plate-boundary features. A key to understanding these histories is the observation that Australian Proterozoic terranes are characterized by an extraordinary, but heterogeneous, enrichment of the heat-producing elements. This enrichment must contribute to long-term lithospheric weakening, and thus we advocate a hybrid lithospheric evolution model with two tectonic switches: plate-boundary–derived stresses and heat-producing-element–related lithospheric weakening. The Australian Proterozoic crustal growth record is therefore a function of the magnitude of these stresses, the way in which the heat-producing elements are distributed, and how both of these change with time.

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