Evolution of the Precambrian lithosphere: Seismological and geochemical constraints

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
By:  and 



Several recent models of crustal evolution are based on the belief that the thickness of the continental crust is proportional to its age, with ancient crust being the thickest. A worldwide review of seismic structure contradicts this belief and falsifies these models, at least for the Archean. Proterozoic crust has a thickness of 40–55 km and a substantial high‐velocity (>7 km/s) layer at its base, while Archean crust is only 27–40 km thick (except at the site of younger rifts and collisional boundaries) and lacks the basal high‐velocity layer. Seismology also provides evidence that the lithosphere is thickest beneath Archean cratons, while diamond ages show that this lithospheric keel must have already existed in the Archean. Geochemical data also indicate significant differences between Archean and Proterozoic lithosphere. Major and trace element studies of sediments show a change in upper crustal composition between the Archean and Proterozoic. Archean rocks are depleted in Si and K and enriched in Na, Ca, and Mg. There is also a marked change in the Eu/Eu* ratio. Mantle xenoliths and continental flood basalts show that the mantle lithosphere beneath Archean crust is ultradepleted in FeO compared to that beneath post‐Archean crust. The secular change in the crust‐forming process is attributed to a decline in mantle temperature, leading to a change in the composition of the lithospheric mantle. The higher temperature of the Archean mantle led to the eruption of komatiitic lavas, producing a refractory lithospheric mantle which is ultradepleted in FeO and volatiles. The resultant lithospheric keel is intrinsically less dense than the surrounding mantle and thus not susceptible to delamination. It was sufficiently thick and cool for diamonds to form during the Archean. In contrast, Proterozoic crust developed above fertile mantle. The eruption of continental flood basalts and underplating of basaltic sills is attributed to subsequent heating and partial melting of the lithospheric mantle. Consequently, Proterozoic crust is thickened and has a high‐velocity basal layer.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evolution of the Precambrian lithosphere: Seismological and geochemical constraints
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1029/94JB00138
Volume 99
Issue B8
Year Published 1994
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 16 p.
First page 15359
Last page 15374
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