Abstract

Geochemical traces from the Hadean Eon and terrestrial siderophile and volatile element data are discussed in the light of the standard, or hierarchical, model of planetary accretion, which envisages growth of the planets by collisions of progressively larger protoplanets. Siderophile element depletion patterns can be explained by partial inheritance from early stages of the process, when metal cores resulted from melting in collisions of small planetesimals. The abundances and isotope data for hydrogen and nitrogen suggest a chondrite-type source rather than nebular gas, in accord with atmosphere loss in the high-temperature aftermath of the Moon-forming Giant Impact, after which late accretion replenished the atmosphere. Lead isotope patterns and anomalous 142Nd/144Nd ratios in early Archaean metasediments and 176Hf/177Hf ratios of 3.7–4.4 Ga old detrital zircons point to a vanished crust that persisted through much of the Hadean Eon. A working hypothesis is proposed that links these observations. Following the freezing of a magma ocean caused by the Giant Impact, the mantle would be gravitationally unstable and an overturn would occur, leading to the formation of a huge mafic crust. After the overturn the mantle could be stable and inactive for hundreds of million years.

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