Abstract

This paper presents a plate-scale model for the Precambrian growth and evolution of the North American continent. The core of the North American continent (Canadian shield) came together in the Paleoproterozoic (2.0–1.8 Ga) by plate collisions of Archean continents (Slave with Rae-Hearne, then Rae-Hearne with Superior) as well as smaller Archean continental fragments (Wyoming, Medicine Hat, Sask, Marshfield, Nain cratons). The resulting Trans-Hudson orogen was a collisional belt similar in scale to the modern Himalayas. It contains mainly reworked Archean crust, but remnants of juvenile volcanic belts are preserved between Archean masses. The thick, buoyant, and compositionally depleted mantle lithosphere that now underlies North America, although dominantly of Archean age, took its present shape by processes of collisional orogenesis and likely has a scale of mantle heterogeneity similar to that exhibited in the overlying crust.

In marked contrast, lithosphere of southern North America (much of the conti nental United States) was built by progressive addition of a series of dominantly juvenile vol canic arcs and oceanic terranes accreted along a long-lived southern (present coordinates) plate margin. Early juvenile additions (Pembine-Wausau, Elves Chasmarcs) formed at the same time (1.84–1.82 Ga) the core was assembling. Following final assembly of the Archean and Paleoproterozoic core of North America by 1.8 Ga, major accretionary provinces (defined mainly by isotopic model ages) were added by arc-continent accretion, analogous to present-day convergence between Australia and Indonesia. Also similar to Indonesia, some accreted terranes contain older continental crustal material [Archean(?) Mojavia], but the extent and geometry of older crust are not well known. Accretionary provinces are composed of numerous 10 to 100 km scale terranes or blocks, separated by shear zones, some of which had compound histories as terrane sutures and later crustal-assembly structures. Major northeast-trending provinces are the Yavapai province (1.80–1.70 Ga), welded to North America during the 1.71–1.68 Ga Yavapai orogeny; the Mazatzal province (1.70–1.65 Ga), added during the 1.65–1.60 Ga Mazatzal orogeny; the Granite-Rhyolite province (1.50–1.30 Ga), added during the 1.45–1.30 Ga tectonic event associated with A-type intracratonic magmatism; and the Llano-Grenville province (1.30–1.00 Ga), added during the 1.30–0.95 Ga broader Grenville orogeny. During each episode of addition of juvenile lithosphere, the transformation of juvenile crust into stable continental lithosphere was facilitated by voluminous granitoid plutonism that stitched new and existing orogenic boundaries. Slab roll back created transient extensional basins (1.70 and 1.65 Ga) in which Paleoproterozoic quartzite-rhyolite successions were deposited, then thrust imbricated as basins were inverted. The lithospheric collage that formed from dominantly juvenile terrane accretion and stabilization (1.8–1.0 Ga) makes up about half of the present-day North American continent. Throughout (and as a result of) this long-lived convergent cycle, mantle lithosphere below the accretionary provinces was more hydrous, fertile, and relatively weak compared to mantle lithosphere under the Archean core.

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