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Granites and their associated comagmatic felsic volcanic rocks occur in most Proterozoic provinces of Australia. Using multi-element, primordial-mantle-normalised abundance diagrams and various petrological characteristics, Australian Proterozoic granites can be subdivided into five groups: (i) I-type, Sr-depleted, Y-undepleted, restite-dominated, (ii) I-type, Sr-depleted, Y-undepleted, fractionated, low in incompatible elements, (iii) I-type Sr-depleted, Y-undepleted, enriched in incompatible elements (anorogenic granites), (iv) I-type, Sr-undepleted, Y-depleted, (v) S-type, Sr-depleted, Y-undepleted. The four Sr-depleted groups dominate, and group (iv) is of very limited extent. A comparison of these Proterozoic granites with Australian and Papua New Guinean granites of other time periods shows that these characteristic Sr-depleted Y-undepleted patterns are also dominant in early Palaeozoic granites. They are significantly different from those of granites in modern island arcs associated with subduction, and with most granites from Archaean terranes, where the multi-element diagrams are dominated by Sr-undepleted, Y-depleted patterns.

The Sr-depleted, Y-undepleted patterns are thought to indicate source regions that contained plagioclase but not garnet, whilst the Sr-undepleted, Y-depleted patterns are taken to correspond with the presence of garnet, but not plagioclase, in the source rocks. The Sr-depleted, Y-undepleted patterns also only occur in regions where the lower crustal structure is dominated by an underplated mafic layer with a P-wave velocity of 7.2 – 7.4 km/s. In contrast, in regions where the granites are dominated by Sr-undepleted, Y-depleted patterns, such as in the Archaean and in Cainozoic island arcs, this intermediate velocity layer is not present, and the crust-mantle boundary is very sharp.

Two other distinctive compositional changes have been noted among the I-type granites of different age. Firstly, Na is highest in Archaean and Cainozoic granites, and lowest in early Proterozoic granites; Palaeozoic and Mesozoic granites have intermediate values. Secondly, late Archaean and Proterozoic granites are the most enriched in K, Th and U, while the Cainozoic and early Archaean tonalites are the most depleted; Palaeozoic and Mesozoic granites again contain intermediate amounts of those elements.

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