Abstract

To investigate formation of the Earth's earliest continental crust, partial-melting experiments were conducted (at 900–1100 °C and 0.5–3.0 GPa) on two greenstones from the 4.3 Ga Nuvvuagittuq complex of Quebec, Canada. For comparison, experiments were also conducted on a compositionally similar but modern arc volcanic (a Tongan boninite). At 1.5–3.0 GPa and 950–1100 °C, the experimentally produced melts are compositionally similar to the tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) granitoids that compose most of Earth's early continental crust, including a 3.66 Ga tonalite that encloses the Nuvvuagittuq Complex. Because the degree of melting needed to produce the TTG-like melts is comparatively high (>30%), the relative concentrations of most incompatible elements in the melts are similar to those in their greenstone parent rocks. These greenstones have compositional affinities with modern subduction zone magmas and do not resemble mid-oceanic ridge basalts. That arc-like mafic rocks could have been selectively involved in TTG formation (in spite of their volumetrically subordinate status in most greenstone terrains) must reflect tectonic circumstances that were specific to their generation. These must have enabled accumulations sufficiently deep to melt at the 1.5–3.0 GPa needed to generate TTG magmas from eclogitic sources. They are also likely to have been related to some form of crustal recycling whereby mafic crust and water were returned to the mantle and arc-like mafic magmas generated as a consequence. To what degree these circumstances replicated modern plate tectonics is difficult to say, but it seems likely that, as in the modern Earth, the Hadean crust was organized into different tectonic environments and that one of these gave rise to the first continental crust.

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