Abstract

The Archean continental lithosphere consists of a dominantly felsic continental crust, made of tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) and subordinate granitoids, and a cratonic lithospheric mantle, made of highly refractory peridotites. Whether they stemmed from the same process of differentiation from the primitive mantle, or were two distinct components that were physically juxtaposed, remains debated. Metal stable isotope ratios are sensitive to magmatic and metamorphic processes and do not evolve with time. Therefore, stable isotope ratios are complementary to radiogenic isotope ratios, and they allow direct comparisons to be made between different terrestrial components without age corrections. Isotopes of iron and zinc, metals ubiquitous in Earth’s lithosphere, can be tracers of lithospheric formation and evolution because they are affected by partial melting (Fe, Zn), redox state (Fe), and the presence of sulfides (Fe, Zn). Here, using stable Fe and Zn isotopic data from Archean samples of the lithospheric mantle and the continental crust, we show that Fe and Zn isotopes define a linear array, best explained by their coupled fractionation behavior during magmatic processes. Our data show that high degrees of partial melting (>30%) during the formation of the cratonic mantle and mafic protocrust, and reworking of the early crust significantly fractionate Fe and Zn isotopes. Conversely, Fe and Zn isotope ratios in the TTG are similar to those in Archean mafic rocks, suggesting an origin by fractional crystallization of basalt, and implying limited Fe and Zn isotopic fractionation, instead of partial melting of mafic crust. Moreover, the absence of Fe and Zn isotope decoupling due to redox effects, melt (fluid)–rock or sediment-rock interaction, and decarbonation indicates that subduction, at least as we understand it now, is not required to explain the Fe and Zn isotope composition of the Archean lithosphere.

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