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Archean granitoid magmatism and the chemical evolution of the cratonic lithosphere

Robert Rapp1, Herve Martin2, Didier Laporte2, and J-F. Moyen3

1 Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
2 Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans, Universite de Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, France
3 Department of Geology, University of Stellenbosch, Matteland, South Africa

Figure 1

Although there is indirect evidence for the existence of continental crust on Earth more than 4.0 Ga ago (Harrison et al., 2005), no intact, preserved fragments of continents have been found.  This begs the question when and how did the first truly "nondestructible" continents form?  The development of deep (>200 km), old and chemically refractory roots to the continents in the underlying lithospheric mantle appears to be a critical stage in the physical and chemical evolution of Earth's cratons, the old and stable nuclei of the continents.  Without roots in the underlying sub-cratonic lithospheric mantle, the preservation of large continental masses over billions of years may not have been possible.  Ongoing experimental and field-based petrologic research over the past several years has led to an improved understanding of the genetic links between granitoid magmatism on the early Earth and the development of their roots in the cratonic lithosphere. 

It is well established from studies of Archean (~2.5-4.0 Ga old) granite-greenstone and high-grade gneiss terranes around the world that the granitoid plutons comprising the "continental" component in these areas are dominated by rocks of the trondhjemite-tonalite-granodiorite (TTG) suite of granitoids.  A number of experimental studies have previously shown that TTG "magmas" can be generated by low-moderate degrees of partial melting of hydrous "metabasaltic" crust in the garnet-amphibolite-eclogite facies (e.g., Rapp and Watson, 1995; Rapp et al., 2003), and thus tectonic processes that lead to overthickening or recycling (subduction?) of secondary basaltic (oceanic?) crust could also culminate in TTG-forming dehydration melting reactions.  In the meantime, detailed field-based petrologic and geochemical studies in a number of granite-greenstone terranes (e.g., the Superior Province of Canada and the Pilbara of Australia; see Smithies and Champion, 2000) had identified another suite of Late Archean "post-kinematic" granitoid intrusives (the "sanukitoid" suite), that possessed "primitive" (i.e., mantle-like) characteristics overprinted onto an overall "TTG-like" geochemical signature, suggesting a hybrid lineage with a significant mantle contribution somewhere along the way. 

In an effort to constrain the petrogenesis of sanukitoid magmas, we began a series of high-pressure laboratory experiments at 3-5 GPa in which TTG melts were allowed to react with (and assimilate) a peridotite mineral assemblage (Rapp et al., 1999).  Our latest results show that primitive (high-magnesium) granitoids (andesites) comparable to Late Archean sanukitoids result from the equilibration of TTG melts with olivine-bearing mantle phase assemblages (Rapp et al., 2009).  The resulting olivine-free garnet pyroxenite and garnet websterite reaction residues are currently being characterized in terms of their major- and trace-element compositions, for subsequent comparison with mantle xenoliths from the subcratonic mantle lithosphere.



Harrison, TM, Blichert-Toft, J, Muller, W, Albarede, F, Holden, P, Mojzsis, SJ (2005) Heterogeneous Hadean Hafnium: evidence of continental crust at 4.4 to 4.5 Ga. Science 310,  1947-1950.
Rapp, RP, Watson, EB (1995) Dehydration melting of metabasalt at 8-32 kbar: Implications for continental growth and crust-mantle recycling, Journal of Petrology 36, 891-931.  
Rapp, RP, Shimizu, N, Norman, MD, Applegate, GS (1999) Reaction between slab-derived melts and peridotite in the mantle wedge: experimental constraints at 3.8 GPa.  Chemical Geology  160, 335-356.
Rapp, RP, Shimizu, N, Norman, MD (2003) Growth of early continental crust by partial melting of eclogite. Nature 425, 605-609.
Rapp, RP, Yaxley, GM, Norman, MD (2008)  Genetic relations between Archean granitoid magmatsim and the chemical evolution of subcratonic lithospheric mantle: experimental constraints at 3-4 GPa. Lithos Special Volume: 9th International Kimberlite Conference (submitted).
Smithies, R.H. and Champion, D.C. (2000). The Archaean high–Mg diorite suite:
links to tonalite–trondhjemite–granodiorite magmatism and implications for Early Archaean crustal growth. Journal of Petrology 41, 1653–1671.