OUTSIDE THE ‘METEORITE BOX’

Elements of Eoarchean life trapped in mineral inclusions

T. Hassenkam, M. P. Andersson, K. N. Dalby, D. M. A. Mackenzie & M. T. Rosing

Nature (2017)
doi:10.1038/nature23261
Published online 24 July 2017

“Metasedimentary rocks from Isua, West Greenland (over 3,700 million years old) contain 13C-depleted carbonaceous compounds, with isotopic ratios that are compatible with a biogenic origin1, 2, 3. Metamorphic garnet crystals in these rocks contain trails of carbonaceous inclusions that are contiguous with carbon-rich sedimentary beds in the host rock, where carbon is fully graphitized. Previous studies4, 5 have not been able to document other elements of life (mainly hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus) structurally bound to this carbonaceous material. Here we study carbonaceous inclusions armoured within garnet porphyroblasts, by in situ infrared absorption on approximately 10−21 m3 domains within these inclusions. We show that the absorption spectra are consistent with carbon bonded to nitrogen and oxygen, and probably also to phosphate. The levels of C–H or O–H bonds were found to be low. These results are consistent with biogenic organic material isolated for billions of years and thermally matured at temperatures of around 500 °C. They therefore provide spatial characterization for potentially the oldest biogenic carbon relics in Earth’s geological record. The preservation of Eoarchean organic residues within sedimentary material corroborates earlier claims2, 6 for the biogenic origins of carbon in Isua metasediments.”

CO2 fluid inclusions in Jack Hills zircons

Martina Menneken, Thorsten GeislerAlexander, A. Nemchin, Martin J. Whitehouse, Simon A. Wilde, Biliana Gasharova, Robert T. Pidgeon

Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology
August 2017, 172:66

“The discovery of Hadean to Paleoarchean zircons in a metaconglomerate from Jack Hills, Western Australia, has catalyzed intensive study of these zircons and their mineral inclusions, as they represent unique geochemical archives that can be used to unravel the geological evolution of early Earth. Here, we report the occurrence and physical properties of previously undetected CO2 inclusions that were identified in 3.36–3.47 Ga and 3.80–4.13 Ga zircon grains by confocal micro-Raman spectroscopy. Minimum P–T conditions of zircon formation were determined from the highest density of the inclusions, determined from the density-dependence of the Fermi diad splitting in the Raman spectrum and Ti-in-zircon thermometry. For both age periods, the CO2 densities and Ti-in-zircon temperatures correspond to high-grade metamorphic conditions (≥5 to ≥7 kbar/~670 to 770 °C) that are typical of mid-crustal regional metamorphism throughout Earth’s history. In addition, fully enclosed, highly disordered graphitic carbon inclusions were identified in two zircon grains from the older population that also contained CO2 inclusions. Transmission electron microscopy on one of these inclusions revealed that carbon forms a thin amorphous film on the inclusion wall, whereas the rest of the volume was probably occupied by CO2 prior to analysis. This indicates a close relationship between CO2 and the reduced carbon inclusions and, in particular that the carbon precipitated from a CO2-rich fluid, which is inconsistent with the recently proposed biogenic origin of carbon inclusions found in Hadean zircons from Jack Hills.”

Processes of Crust Formation in the Early Earth Imaged through Hf isotopes from the East Pilbara Terrane

Nicholas J. Gardiner, Arthur H. Hickman, Christopher L. Kirkland, Yongjun Lu, Tim Johnson, Jian-Xin Zhao

Precambrian Research
In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 23 May 2017

“Highlights
• We present new Hf and Nd data from the Mount Edgar Dome, East Pilbara Terrane.
• These chart the Palaeo-Mesoarchaean magmatic evolution of a single granite complex.
• Reworking of existing TTG crust dominated late Palaeoarchaean magmatism.
• This trend supports a vertical tectonic geodynamic regime >3.2 Ga for the Pilbara.
• The data further support a cryptic >3.5Ga protocrust of unknown extent.”

“The Pilbara Craton, Western Australia, is one of the best preserved Palaeo- to Mesoarchaean terrains on Earth. The East Pilbara Terrane is the archetypical granite-greenstone belt, the dome-like complexes of which were formed through three major magmatic events. These granite domes are comprised of metamorphosed granitic igneous rocks that exhibit a magmatic evolution from early tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) rocks towards K-rich granites over the period 3.53–2.83 Ga. Accordingly, East Pilbara has been a focus for workers seeking to constrain early Archaean geodynamic processes. One way to inform on this debate is to interrogate successive igneous supersuites using tools sensitive to magmatic source. We present new zircon Hf and whole-rock Nd isotope data from four major supersuites of the Mount Edgar Dome, of the East Pilbara Terrane. Early ca. 3.45 Ga TTGs exhibit isotopic signatures that imply their partial derivation from existing crust, with addition of some juvenile material. Subsequent Palaeoarchaean magmatic events show a secular trend towards more evolved isotopic signatures, interpreted as a dominance of increasing reworking of existing crust, with only minor addition of new juvenile crust. The implication of this is that these later Palaeoarchaean supersuites were largely derived from the melting of older granitic crust, with mass balance modelling suggesting an input of ca. 20% juvenile (depleted mantle) material. The limited addition of juvenile material and increased reworking of existing crust with time, does not support a model of modern-style subduction, but is consistent with vertical tectonic processes in a volcanic plateau-type setting for the East Pilbara Terrane > 3.2 Ga. All Palaeoarchaean Mount Edgar samples resolve to two-stage Hf model ages of ca. 3.7 Ga and Nd model ages of ca. 3.6 Ga. These Eoarchaean model ages support the existence of a cryptic pre-3.5 Ga protocrust, albeit of unknown extent. Analysis of late Mesoarchaean granites yields highly evolved Hf isotope signatures, consistent with a ca. < 3.2 Ga switch within the Mount Edgar Granitic Complex from dominantly sodic TTG type magmatism towards more K-rich granites as the craton stabilized."

Earliest signs of life on land preserved in ca. 3.5 Ga hot spring deposits

Tara Djokic, Martin J. Van Kranendonk, Kathleen A. Campbell, Malcolm R. Walter & Colin R. Ward

Nature Communications 8, Article number: 15263 (2017)
doi:10.1038/ncomms15263
OPEN ACCESS

“The ca. 3.48 Ga Dresser Formation, Pilbara Craton, Western Australia, is well known for hosting some of Earth’s earliest convincing evidence of life (stromatolites, fractionated sulfur/carbon isotopes, microfossils) within a dynamic, low-eruptive volcanic caldera affected by voluminous hydrothermal fluid circulation. However, missing from the caldera model were surface manifestations of the volcanic-hydrothermal system (hot springs, geysers) and their unequivocal link with life. Here we present new discoveries of hot spring deposits including geyserite, sinter terracettes and mineralized remnants of hot spring pools/vents, all of which preserve a suite of microbial biosignatures indicative of the earliest life on land. These include stromatolites, newly observed microbial palisade fabric and gas bubbles preserved in inferred mineralized, exopolymeric substance. These findings extend the known geological record of inhabited terrestrial hot springs on Earth by ∼3 billion years and offer an analogue in the search for potential fossil life in ancient Martian hot springs.”

Interview with Tara Djokic
on Quirks and Quarks (CBC Radio Canada, 12 May 2017)
starting at 8:28 min. running time
AUDIO (MP3)

Formation of Hadean granites by melting of igneous crust

A. D. Burnham & A. J. Berry

Nature Geoscience(2017)
doi:10.1038/ngeo2942
Published online 08 May 2017

“The oldest known samples of Earth, with ages of up to 4.4 Gyr, are detrital zircon grains in meta-sedimentary rocks of the Jack Hills in Australia. These zircons offer insights into the magmas from which they crystallized, and, by implication, igneous activity and tectonics in the first 500 million years of Earth’s history, the Hadean eon. However, the compositions of these magmas and the relative contributions of igneous and sedimentary components to their sources have not yet been resolved. Here we compare the trace element concentrations of the Jack Hills zircons to those of zircons from the locality where igneous (I-) and sedimentary (S-) type granites were first distinguished. We show that the Hadean zircons crystallized predominantly from I-type magmas formed by melting of a reduced, garnet-bearing igneous crust. Further, we propose that both the phosphorus content of zircon and the ratio of phosphorus to rare earth elements can be used to distinguish between detrital zircon grains from I- and S-type sources. These elemental discriminants provide a new geochemical tool to assess the relative contributions of primeval magmatism and melting of recycled sediments to the continents over geological time.”

Large and robust lenticular microorganisms on the young Earth

Dorothy Z. Oehler, Maud M. Walsh, Kenichiro Sugitani, Ming-Chang Liu, Christopher H. House

Precambrian Research
In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 26 April 2017

“Highlights
• Lenticular forms (Kromberg Fm) of S. Africa are bona fide ∼ 3.4 Ga microfossils.
• They are related to ∼3.4 to 3.0 Ga lenticular forms in the Pilbara of Australia.
• All represent organisms that were robust, and likely autotrophic and planktonic.
• Their success may be due, in part, to their robustness and planktonic habit.
• Results support the concept that autotrophy developed early on the young Earth.

“In recent years, remarkable organic microfossils have been reported from Archean deposits in the Pilbara craton of Australia. The structures are set apart from other ancient microfossils by their complex lenticular morphology combined with their large size and robust, unusually thick walls. Potentially similar forms were reported in 1992 from the ∼ 3.4 Ga Kromberg Formation (KF) of the Kaapvaal craton, South Africa, but their origin has remained uncertain. Here we report the first determination of in situ carbon isotopic composition (δ13C) of the lenticular structures in the KF (obtained with Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry [SIMS]) as well as the first comparison of these structures to those from the Pilbara, using morphological, isotopic, and sedimentological criteria.
Our results support interpretations that the KF forms are bona fide, organic Archean microfossils and represent some of the oldest morphologically preserved organisms on Earth. The combination of morphology, occurrence, and δ 13C values argues that the lenticular forms represent microbes that had planktonic stages to their life cycles. The similarity in morphology, δ 13C, and facies associations among specimens from Australia and South Africa suggests that the lenticular microfossils on the two continents represent related organisms. The biological success these organisms is demonstrated by their abundance, widespread distribution, and the fact that, as a group, they appear to have been present at least 400 million years. This success may be due in part to their robust structure and planktonic habit, features that may have contributed to survival on a young planet. Isotopic results further suggest that the lenticular organisms were autotrophs, an interpretation supporting the view that autotrophic metabolisms developed early on the young Earth.”

Tungsten-182 heterogeneity in modern ocean island basalts

Andrea Mundl, Mathieu Touboul, Matthew G. Jackson, James M. D. Day, Mark D. Kurz, Vedran Lekic, Rosalind T. Helz, Richard J. Walker

Science 07 Apr 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6333, pp. 66-69
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4179

“New tungsten isotope data for modern ocean island basalts (OIB) from Hawaii, Samoa, and Iceland reveal variable 182W/184W, ranging from that of the ambient upper mantle to ratios as much as 18 parts per million lower. The tungsten isotopic data negatively correlate with 3He/4He. These data indicate that each OIB system accesses domains within Earth that formed within the first 60 million years of solar system history. Combined isotopic and chemical characteristics projected for these ancient domains indicate that they contain metal and are repositories of noble gases. We suggest that the most likely source candidates are mega–ultralow-velocity zones, which lie beneath Hawaii, Samoa, and Iceland but not beneath hot spots whose OIB yield normal 182W and homogeneously low 3He/4He.”

Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates

Matthew S. Dodd,Dominic Papineau,Tor Grenne,John F. Slack,Martin Rittner,Franco Pirajno,Jonathan O’Neil & Crispin T. S. Little

Nature 543,60–64
02 March 2017
doi:10.1038/nature21377

“Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite–haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils. Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3,770 million years ago.”

Haematite tubes from the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB) hydrothermal vent deposits. Photo: Matthew Dodd

Layer-deflecting bright red concretion of haematitic chert (an iron-rich and silica-rich rock), which contains tubular and filamentous microfossils. This co-called jasper is in contact with a dark green volcanic rock in the top right and represent hydrothermal vent precipitates on the seafloor. Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, Quebec, Canada. Photo: Dominic Papineau

Earth’s first stable continents did not form by subduction

Tim E. Johnson, Michael Brown, Nicholas J. Gardiner, Christopher L. Kirkland & R. Hugh Smithies

Nature (2017)
doi:10.1038/nature21383
Published online 27 February

“The geodynamic environment in which Earth’s first continents formed and were stabilized remains controversial1. Most exposed continental crust that can be dated back to the Archaean eon (4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago) comprises tonalite–trondhjemite–granodiorite rocks (TTGs) that were formed through partial melting of hydrated low-magnesium basaltic rocks2; notably, these TTGs have ‘arc-like’ signatures of trace elements and thus resemble the continental crust produced in modern subduction settings3. In the East Pilbara Terrane, Western Australia, low-magnesium basalts of the Coucal Formation at the base of the Pilbara Supergroup have trace-element compositions that are consistent with these being source rocks for TTGs. These basalts may be the remnants of a thick (more than 35 kilometres thick), ancient (more than 3.5 billion years old) basaltic crust4, 5 that is predicted to have existed if Archaean mantle temperatures were much hotter than today’s6, 7, 8. Here, using phase equilibria modelling of the Coucal basalts, we confirm their suitability as TTG ‘parents’, and suggest that TTGs were produced by around 20 per cent to 30 per cent melting of the Coucal basalts along high geothermal gradients (of more than 700 degrees Celsius per gigapascal). We also analyse the trace-element composition of the Coucal basalts, and propose that these rocks were themselves derived from an earlier generation of high-magnesium basaltic rocks, suggesting that the arc-like signature in Archaean TTGs was inherited from an ancestral source lineage. This protracted, multistage process for the production and stabilization of the first continents—coupled with the high geothermal gradients—is incompatible with modern-style plate tectonics, and favours instead the formation of TTGs near the base of thick, plateau-like basaltic crust9. Thus subduction was not required to produce TTGs in the early Archaean eon.”

SHRIMP U–Pb zircon geochronology establishes that banded iron formations are not chronostratigraphic markers across Archean greenstone belts of the Pilbara Craton

Stephen Sheppard, Bryan Krapež, Jian-Wei Zi, Birger Rasmussen, Ian Fletcher

Precambrian Research, Available online 11 February 2017

“Highlights
• The c. 3020 Ma Cleaverville Formation is the oldest unit correlated across the Pilbara Craton.
• However, the formation in the eastern part of the craton was deposited at c. 3105 Ma.
• The Cleaverville Formation is not a chronostratigraphic marker.
• The Mesoarchean amalgamation history of the craton may need to be revised.”

“Banded iron formation (BIF) of the c. 3020 Ma Cleaverville Formation is correlated across the Pilbara Craton and is considered to be the first stratigraphic unit common to the West Pilbara Superterrane and the East Pilbara Terrane. New field mapping and geochronology from the Shay Gap and Goldsworthy belts on the northeastern margin of the East Pilbara Terrane test that correlation. Along that margin, the Farrel Quartzite at the base of the Gorge Creek Group nonconformably overlies granite and unconformably overlies metavolcanic rocks. The Farrel Quartzite is conformably overlain by what is interpreted to be Cleaverville Formation, which is divided into a lower BIF member, a middle mudstone member and an upper BIF member. We have dated a tuff from the middle mudstone member by the Sensitive High-Resolution Ion Microprobe (SHRIMP) U-Pb zircon method at 3104 ± 16 Ma. The underlying Farrel Quartzite has a maximum depositional age of 3295 ± 5 Ma and no zircon population at c. 3105 Ma. Therefore, the SHRIMP date for the tuff does not represent reworking of underlying sedimentary rocks and is interpreted to be a depositional age. This new date refutes correlation of the Cleaverville Formation across the craton, and it implies that BIFs should not be used as chronostratigraphic markers across Archean greenstone terrains. We suggest reinstating the name Nimingarra Iron Formation for BIFs that crop out along the northeastern margin of the Pilbara Craton, to distinguish them from the Cleaverville Formation. If the Cleaverville Formation, as defined in the West Pilbara Superterrane, is not the oldest stratigraphic unit common to the craton, then our understanding of the Mesoarchean evolution of the Pilbara Craton needs to be revised.”

The Hunt for Shocked Zircon in the Jack Hills: 21,000 and Counting…

M. A. Cox, A. J. Cavosie, S. M. Reddy, P. A. Bland, J. W. Valley
48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2017), Abstract #1402

Initiation of plate tectonics in the Hadean: Eclogitization triggered by the ABEL Bombardment
S. Maruyama, M. Santosh, S. Azuma

Geoscience Frontiers
Available online 9 December 2016
dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gsf.2016.11.009

PDF (OPEN ACCESS)

“Highlights
• Presence of water is the most critical factor for plate tectonics
• Bombardment of carbonaceous chondrites delivered water on completely dry Earth
• Eclogitization provided slab-pull force to initiate plate tectonics
• Stagnant lid tectonics shifted to plate tectonics by the ABEL Bombardment”

“When plate tectonics began on the Earth has been long debated and here we argue this topic based on the records of Earth-Moon geology and asteroid belt to conclude that the onset of plate tectonics was during the middle Hadean (between 4.37–4.20 Ga). The trigger of the initiation of plate tectonics is the ABEL Bombardment, which delivered oceanic and atmospheric components on a completely dry reductive Earth, originally comprised of enstatite chondrite-like materials. Through the accretion of volatiles, shock metamorphism processed with vaporization of both CI chondrite and supracrustal rocks at the bombarded location, and significant recrystallization went through under wet conditions, caused considerable eclogitization in the primordial continents composed of felsic upper crust of 21 km thick anorthosite, and 50 km or even thicker KREEP lower crust. Eclogitization must have yielded a powerful slab-pull force to initiate plate tectonics in the middle Hadean. Another important factor is the size of the bombardment. By creating Pacific Ocean class crater by 1000 km across impactor, rigid plate operating stagnant lid tectonics since the early Hadean was severely destroyed, and oceanic lithosphere was generated to have bi-modal lithosphere on the Earth to enable the operation of plate tectonics. Considering the importance of the ABEL Bombardment event which initiated plate tectonics including the appearance of ocean and atmosphere, we propose that the Hadean Eon can be subdivided into three periods: (1) early Hadean (4.57–4.37 Ga), (2) middle Hadean (4.37–4.20 Ga), and (3) late Hadean (4.20–4.00 Ga).”

Highly siderophile element and 182W evidence for a partial late veneer in the source of 3.8 Ga rocks from Isua, Greenland

Christopher W. Dale, Thomas S. Kruijer, Kevin W. Burton

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 22 November 2016

“Highlights
• HSE and 182W give mutually consistent estimate of late veneer proportion in Isua source.
• The >3.7 Ga Isua source contains around 55–60% of Earth’s full late veneer.
• Late veneer component in Moon < Isua source < bulk silicate Earth.
• Isua HSE-182W supports disproportional late accretion to the Earth and Moon.”

“The higher-than-expected concentrations of highly siderophile elements (HSE) in Earth’s mantle most likely indicate that Earth received a small amount of late accreted mass after core formation had ceased, known as the ‘late veneer’. Small 182W excesses in the Moon and in some Archaean rocks – such as the source of 3.8 billion-year-old Isua magmatics – also appear consistent with the late veneer hypothesis, with a lower proportion received. However, 182W anomalies can also relate to other processes, including early mantle differentiation. To better assess the origin of these W isotope anomalies – and specifically whether they relate to the late veneer – we have determined the HSE abundances and 182W compositions of a suite of mafic to ultramafic rocks from Isua, from which we estimate HSE abundances in the source mantle and ultimately constrain the 182W composition of the pre-late veneer mantle.

Our data suggest that the Isua source mantle had HSE abundances at around 50–65% of the present-day mantle, consistent with partial, but not complete, isolation from the late veneer. These data also indicate that at least part of the late veneer had been added and mixed into the mantle at the time the Isua source formed, prior to 3.8 Ga. For the same Isua samples we obtained a 13±4 ppm13±4 ppm182W excess, compared to the modern terrestrial mantle, in excellent agreement with previous data. Using combined 182W and HSE data we show that the Moon, Isua, and the present-day bulk silicate Earth (BSE) produce a well-defined co-variation between 182W composition and the mass fraction of late-accreted mass, as inferred from HSE abundances. This co-variation is consistent with the calculated effects of various late accretion compositions on the HSE and 182W signatures of Earth’s mantle. The empirical relationship, therefore, implies that the Moon, Isua source and BSE received increasing proportions of late-accreted mass, supporting the idea of disproportional late accretion to the Earth and Moon, and consistent with the interpretation that the lunar 182W value of 27±4 ppm27±4 ppm represents the composition of Earth’s mantle before the late veneer was added. In this case, the Isua source can represent ambient mantle after the giant moon-forming impact, into which only a part of Earth’s full late veneer was mixed, rather than an isotopically distinct mantle domain produced by early differentiation, which would probably require survival through the giant Moon-forming impact.”

Iron and oxygen isotope fractionation during iron UV photo-oxidation: Implications for early Earth and Mars

Nicole X. Nie, Nicolas Dauphas, Richard C. Greenwood

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Available online 10 November 2016
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2016.10.035

“Banded iron formations (BIFs) contain appreciable amounts of ferric iron (Fe3+). The mechanism by which ferrous iron (Fe2+) was oxidized into Fe3+ in an atmosphere that was globally anoxic is highly debated. Of the three scenarios that have been proposed to explain BIF formation, photo-oxidation by UV photons is the only one that does not involve life (the other two are oxidation by O2 produced by photosynthesis, and anoxygenic photosynthesis whereby Fe2+ is directly used as electron donor in place of water). We experimentally investigated iron and oxygen isotope fractionation imparted by iron photo-oxidation at a pH of 7.3. The iron isotope fractionation between precipitated Fe3+-bearing lepidocrocite and dissolved Fe2+ follows a Rayleigh distillation with an instantaneous 56Fe/54Fe fractionation factor of +1.2‰+1.2‰. Such enrichment in the heavy isotopes of iron is consistent with the values measured in BIFs. We also investigated the nature of the mass-fractionation law that governs iron isotope fractionation in the photo-oxidation experiments (i.e., the slope of the δ56Fe–δ57Fe relationship). The experimental run products follow a mass-dependent law corresponding to the high-T equilibrium limit. The fact that a ∼3.8 Gyr old BIF sample (IF-G) from Isua (Greenland) falls on the same fractionation line confirms that iron photo-oxidation in the surface layers of the oceans was a viable pathway to BIF formation in the Archean, when the atmosphere was largely transparent to UV photons.

Our experiments allow us to estimate the quantum yield of the photo-oxidation process (∼0.07 iron atom oxidized per photon absorbed). This yield is used to model iron oxidation on early Mars. As the photo-oxidation proceeds, the aqueous medium becomes more acidic, which slows down the reaction by changing the speciation of iron to species that are less efficient at absorbing UV-photons. Iron photo-oxidation in centimeter to meter-deep water ponds would take months to years to complete. Oxidation by O2 in acidic conditions would be slower. Iron photo-oxidation is thus likely responsible for the formation of jarosite–hematite deposits on Mars, provided that shallow standing water bodies could persist for extended periods of time.

The oxygen isotopic composition of lepidocrocite precipitated from the photo-oxidation experiment was measured and it is related to the composition of water by mass-dependent fractionation. The precipitate-fluid 18O/16O isotope fractionation of ∼+6‰∼+6‰ is consistent with previous determinations of oxygen equilibrium fraction factors between iron oxyhydroxides and water.”

Coupled zircon Lu–Hf and U–Pb isotopic analyses of the oldest terrestrial crust, the >4.03 Ga Acasta Gneiss Complex

Ann M. Bauer, Christopher M. Fisher, Jeffrey D. Vervoort, Samuel A. Bowring

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 8 November 2016

“The Acasta Gneiss Complex of the Northwest Territories, Canada, contains some of the earliest terrestrial continental crust and thus provides a critical sample set for characterization of crust-forming processes on the early Earth. Here we report the results of a combined Lu–Hf and U–Pb isotopic study of zircons from predominantly felsic orthogneisses from the Acasta Gneiss Complex that crystallized between ∼4.0 and 2.9 Ga, many of which contain complex zoning and therefore require an analytical treatment suited to distinguish amongst compositionally distinct age and Hf isotopic domains. To ensure the reliability of the analyses and of subsequent geologic interpretations, we employed the laser ablation split-stream (LASS) technique to concurrently measure the Lu–Hf and U–Pb isotopic systems in zircon. Our results confirm prior findings of precursor Hadean crust (>4.0 Ga) in the source of these rocks and the continued involvement of this reservoir until ∼3.6 Ga. We present evidence for the input of relatively more juvenile material at ∼3.6 Ga, which we suggest corresponds to a fundamental change in the source of the magmas. This study extends the lower bound of the published Acasta Hf isotopic record from 3.6 Ga to 2.9 Ga and demonstrates that the ∼3.6 Ga–2.9 Ga interval is largely represented by reworking of relatively juvenile ∼3.6 Ga crust and the diminution of the >4.0 Ga crustal signal. Significantly, there is no evidence that rocks within the Acasta Gneiss Complex were derived from a strongly depleted mantle.”

Sluggish Hadean geodynamics: Evidence from coupled 146,147Sm–142,143Nd systematics in Eoarchean supracrustal rocks of the Inukjuak domain (Québec)

G. Caro, P. Morino, S.J. Mojzsis, N.L. Cates, W. Bleeker

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Available online 22 October 2016

“The discovery of deficits in 142Nd/144Nd in mafic rocks of the Nuvvuagittuq supracrustal belt (NSB) has triggered a debate about the possible preservation of Hadean (pre-3.85 Ga) crustal remnants in the little-known but areally extensive Innuksuac complex (3.6–3.8 Ga, Inukjuak domain, Northeast Superior Province, Canada). Geochronological investigations in the NSB, however, are hampered by the poor preservation and highly disturbed isotopic record of various mafic (amphibolite) lithologies that host the 142Nd anomalies. Here we present 146Sm–142Nd and 147Sm–143Nd data for rocks of extrusive magmatic and sedimentary protoliths from the Ukaliq supracrustal belt, a newly discovered volcano-sedimentary enclave enclosed in granitoid gneisses of the Inukjuak domain. Our study also includes the first 146Sm–142Nd data for quartz-magnetite rocks (banded iron-formation; BIF) of the NSB and the Eoarchean Isua supracrustal belt (ISB) in southern West Greenland. We show that Ukaliq amphibolites carry variably negative 142Nd anomalies, ranging from 0 to −10 ppm, which are positively correlated with their Sm/Nd ratio. If considered as an isochron relationship, the 146Sm–142Nd array yields an apparent Hadean emplacement age of View the MathML source4215−76+50 Ma. The negative 142Nd anomalies, however, appear to be mainly restricted to amphibolites with boninitic affinities, likely reflecting inheritance from an enriched mantle source. In contrast, tholeiitic and ultramafic lavas have normal μ142Nd regardless of their Sm/Nd ratio. Furthermore, BIF from Ukaliq and Nuvvuagittuq lack the negative 142Nd anomalies that should have been produced by in situ decay of 146Sm had these sediments been deposited prior to ca. 4.1 Ga. Instead, they exhibit μ142Nd identical to that measured in Isua BIF. Collectively, our results suggest that the 146Sm–142Nd array characterizing mafic lithologies of Ukaliq and Nuvvuagittuq is an inherited signature with doubtful chronological significance. We interpret the volcanic protoliths of the Innuksuac complex to have been produced by metasomatically triggered melting of a variably enriched Eoarchean mantle, following addition of felsic melts and/or fluids derived from a foundering Hadean mafic crust. Application of coupled 146,147Sm–142,143Nd chronometry to Ukaliq lavas yields a model age of differentiation of View the MathML source4.36−0.06+0.05 Ga for this Hadean precursor. This is similar to late-stage crystallization ages inferred for the lunar and terrestrial magma oceans. The long-term preservation of Earth’s primordial crust points to subdued lithospheric recycling in the post-magma ocean Earth.”

The effect of weathering on U-Th-Pb and oxygen isotope systems of ancient zircons from the Jack Hills, Western Australia

R.T. Pidgeon, A.A. Nemchin, M.J. Whitehouse

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 21 October 2016

“We report the result of a SIMS U-Th-Pb and O-OH study of 44 ancient zircons from the Jack Hills in Western Australia with ages ranging from 4.3 Ga to 3.3 Ga. We have investigated the behaviour of oxygen isotopes and water in the grains by determining δ18O and OH values at a number of locations on the polished surfaces of each grain. We have divided the zircons into five groups on the basis of their U-Th-Pb and OH-oxygen isotopic behaviour. The first group has concordant U-Th-Pb ages, minimal common Pb, δ18O values consistent with zircons derived from mantle source rocks and no detectable OH content. U-Th-Pb systems in zircons from Groups 2, 3 and 4 vary from concordant to extremely discordant where influenced by cracks. Discordia intercepts with concordia at approximately zero Ma age are interpreted as disturbance of the zircon U-Th-Pb systems by weathering solutions during the extensive, deep weathering that has affected the Archean Yilgarn Craton of Western Australia since at least the Permian. Weathering solutions entering cracks have resulted in an influx of Th and U. δ18O values of Group 2 grains fall approximately within the “mantle “ range and OH is within background levels or slightly elevated. δ18O values of Group 3 grains are characterised by an initial trend of decreasing δ18O with increasing OH content. With further increase in OH this trend reverses and δ18O becomes heavier with increasing OH. Group 4 grains have a distinct trend of increasing δ18O with increasing OH. These trends are explained in terms of the reaction of percolating water with the metamict zircon structure and appear to be independent of analytical overlap with cracks. Group five zircons are characterised by U-Pb systems that appear to consist of more than one age but show only minor U-Pb discordance. Nevertheless trends in δ18O versus OH in this group of grains resemble trends seen in the other groups. The observed trends of δ18O with OH in the Jack Hills zircons are similar to those reported in a previous study of zircons from an Archean granite from south-western Australia.”

No evidence for Hadean continental crust within Earth’s oldest evolved rock unit

J.R.Reimink, J.H.F.L.Davies, T.Chacko, R.A.Stern, L. M. Heaman, C. Sarkar, U. Schaltegger, R. A. Creaser & D.G.Pearson

Nature Geoscience(2016)
doi:10.1038/ngeo2786
Published online 19 September 2016

“Due to the acute scarcity of very ancient rocks, the composition of Earth’s embryonic crust during the Hadean eon (>4.0 billion years ago) is a critical unknown in our search to understand how the earliest continents evolved. Whether the Hadean Earth was dominated by mafic-composition crust, similar to today’s oceanic crust1, 2, 3, 4, or included significant amounts of continental crust5, 6, 7, 8 remains an unsolved question that carries major implications for the earliest atmosphere, the origin of life, and the geochemical evolution of the crust–mantle system. Here we present new U–Pb and Hf isotope data on zircons from the only precisely dated Hadean rock unit on Earth—a 4,019.6 ± 1.8 Myr tonalitic gneiss unit in the Acasta Gneiss Complex, Canada. Combined zircon and whole-rock geochemical data from this ancient unit shows no indication of derivation from, or interaction with, older Hadean continental crust. Instead, the data provide the first direct evidence that the oldest known evolved crust on Earth was generated from an older ultramafic or mafic reservoir that probably surfaced the early Earth.”

Rapid emergence of life shown by discovery of 3,700-million-year-old microbial structures

Allen P. Nutman, Vickie C. Bennett, Clark R. L. Friend, Martin J.Van Kranendonk & Allan R. Chivas

Nature (2016)
doi:10.1038/nature19355
Published online 31 August 2016

LINK

“Biological activity is a major factor in Earth’s chemical cycles, including facilitating CO2 sequestration and providing climate feedbacks. Thus a key question in Earth’s evolution is when did life arise and impact hydrosphere–atmosphere–lithosphere chemical cycles? Until now, evidence for the oldest life on Earth focused on debated stable isotopic signatures of 3,800–3,700 million year (Myr)-old metamorphosed sedimentary rocks and minerals1, 2 from the Isua supracrustal belt (ISB), southwest Greenland3. Here we report evidence for ancient life from a newly exposed outcrop of 3,700-Myr-old metacarbonate rocks in the ISB that contain 1–4-cm-high stromatolites—macroscopically layered structures produced by microbial communities. The ISB stromatolites grew in a shallow marine environment, as indicated by seawater-like rare-earth element plus yttrium trace element signatures of the metacarbonates, and by interlayered detrital sedimentary rocks with cross-lamination and storm-wave generated breccias. The ISB stromatolites predate by 220 Myr the previous most convincing and generally accepted multidisciplinary evidence for oldest life remains in the 3,480-Myr-old Dresser Formation of the Pilbara Craton, Australia4, 5. The presence of the ISB stromatolites demonstrates the establishment of shallow marine carbonate production with biotic CO2 sequestration by 3,700 million years ago (Ma), near the start of Earth’s sedimentary record. A sophistication of life by 3,700 Ma is in accord with genetic molecular clock studies placing life’s origin in the Hadean eon (>4,000 Ma)”

Petrology and geochemistry of mafic rocks in the Acasta Gneiss Complex: Implications for the oldest mafic rocks and their origin

Keiko Koshida, Akira Ishikawa, Hikaru Iwamori, Tsuyoshi Komiya

Precambrian Research
available online 30 July 2016

“Highlights

• Minor mafic rocks distributed over the Acasta Gneiss Complex were examined in detail.
• Major petrochemical varieties due to anatexis followed by amphibolite metamorphism.
• The least-modified rocks preserving basaltic magma compositions were identified.
• The source mantle has chondritic incompatible element ratios, except for Nb and Ta.
• Early Eoarchean Nb-deficit mantle probably originated from the Hadean core formation.”

“The Acasta Gneiss Complex, located in the western part of the Slave Province, Canada, is widely recognized as the oldest Eoarchean terrane. In addition to felsic gneisses with the ages of 3.6-4.0 Ga, minor mafic rocks occur as rounded to elliptical enclaves and inclusions within the felsic gneisses. Despite serving as potential sources of geochemical information on the Hadean mantle, the mafic rocks have received less attention in previous studies. Thus, we conducted a comprehensive geological petrological and geochemical investigation on the Acasta mafic rocks to constrain their petrogenesis and geodynamic setting.

The mafic rocks comprise massive to weakly foliated amphibolite, garnet amphibolite and hornblendite, with variable abundances of hornblende, plagioclase, chlorite and quartz and subordinate clinopyroxene, garnet and cummingtonite. They commonly underwent high-grade metamorphic recrystallization under amphibolite to upper-amphibolite facies conditions. The observed variations in mineral assemblages, abundances and compositions reflect large differences in whole-rock compositions, likely caused by crustal anatexis during the Eoarchean thermal events responsible for the generation of the surrounding felsic gneisses. Infiltration or extraction of felsic melts formed due to partial melting of precursor rocks can account for an overall negative correlation between Al2O3 and MgO contents and variable enrichments in the incompatible elements.

Despite the widespread influence of anatexis on the geochemistry of Acasta mafic rocks, we identified the precursor compositions of the least-modified amphibolites as basaltic magmas. They are characterized by intermediate Al2O3 and MgO contents on the observed array and by near chondritic patterns for incompatible trace elements, except for slightly negative Nb and Ta anomalies. We considered two scenarios to explain the origin of Eoarchean basaltic rocks with Nb-Ta anomalies: (1) generation of Nb-Ta deficient basaltic magma in a suprasubduction setting, analogous to modern arcs-derived magmas, and (2) generation of Nb-Ta deficient basaltic magma from the melting of a Nb-Ta deficient primitive mantle, possible if the core contains significant proportions of the Earth’s Nb and Ta budget. Although the operation of plate tectonics and the presence of subduction zones at the end of Hadean may be an attractive explanation for the observed Nb-Ta depletions, the chondritic relative proportions of other immobile trace elements for Acasta mafic rocks leave open the possibility of their formation from an Nb-Ta deficient primitive mantle.”

Recovering the primary geochemistry of Jack Hills zircons through quantitative estimates of chemical alteration

Elizabeth A. Bell, Patrick Boehnke, T. Mark Harrison

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 19 July 2016

“Despite the robust nature of zircon in most crustal and surface environments, chemical alteration, especially associated with radiation damaged regions, can affect its geochemistry. This consideration is especially important when drawing inferences from the detrital record where the original rock context is missing. Typically, alteration is qualitatively diagnosed through inspection of zircon REE patterns and the style of zoning shown by cathodoluminescence imaging, since fluid-mediated alteration often causes a flat, high LREE pattern. Due to the much lower abundance of LREE in zircon relative both to other crustal materials and to the other REE, disturbance to the LREE pattern is the most likely first sign of disruption to zircon trace element contents. Using a database of 378 (148 new) trace element and 801 (201 new) oxygen isotope measurements on zircons from Jack Hills, Western Australia, we propose a quantitative framework for assessing chemical contamination and exchange with fluids in this population. The Light Rare Earth Element Index is scaled on the relative abundance of light to middle REE, or LREE-I = (Dy/Nd) + (Dy/Sm). LREE-I values vary systematically with other known contaminants (e.g., Fe, P) more faithfully than other suggested proxies for zircon alteration (Sm/La, various absolute concentrations of LREEs) and can be used to distinguish primary compositions when textural evidence for alteration is ambiguous. We find that zircon oxygen isotopes do not vary systematically with placement on or off cracks or with degree of LREE-related chemical alteration, suggesting an essentially primary signature. By omitting zircons affected by LREE-related alteration or contamination by mineral inclusions, we present the best estimate for the primary igneous geochemistry of the Jack Hills zircons. This approach increases the available dataset by allowing for discrimination of on-crack analyses (and analyses with ambiguous or no information on spot placement or zircon internal structures) that do not show evidence for chemical alteration. It distinguishes between altered and unaltered samples in ambiguous cases (e.g., relatively high Ti), identifying small groups with potentially differing provenance from the main Jack Hills population. Finally, filtering of the population using the LREE-I helps to more certainly define primary correlations among trace element variables, potentially relatable to magmatic compositional evolution.”

The birth of a cratonic nucleus: lithogeochemical evolution of the 4.02–2.94 Ga Acasta Gneiss Complex

Jesse R Reimink, Thomas Chacko, Richard A Stern, Larry M Heaman

Precambrian Research
doi:10.1016/j.precamres.2016.06.007
In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 14 June 2016

“Crust forming processes on the early Earth have long been debated and relatively few rock and mineral samples exist with which to evaluate many hotly contested themes. The Acasta Gneiss Complex contains rock units with crystallization ages exceeding 4.0 Ga, making them the oldest known evolved rock units in the world. However, the AGC has experienced a long and complex history with multiple periods of igneous intrusion, deformation and metamorphism. Indeed, previous workers have demonstrated that orthogneisses within the AGC have igneous ages ranging from ∼4.03 to ∼3.4 Ga. This large range in crystallization ages gives us the opportunity to investigate the evolution of Earth’s earliest known continental crust through a period of greater than 1 billion years.
Here we present an updated geologic map of key areas within the Acasta Gneiss Complex in which we delineate units based upon age as well as composition. Whole-rock geochemistry, zircon LA-ICPMS U-Pb geochronology and SIMS O-isotope analyses from a large suite of samples indicate a significant change in mode of crust formation over 400 million years. These data document a gradual change from a shallow crustal processes generating basaltic to andesitic compositions at 4.02 Ga to deep-seated partial melting of hydrated basalt, represented by voluminous Archean TTG-like intrusions at 3.6 Ga.
We find no evidence that classic Archean TTG-like rock units are present within the ACG prior to 3.6 Ga, suggesting a significantly different tectonic process at work prior to this time. We invoke an oceanic plateau-like model to describe the evolving nature of crust formation within the AGC, which forms a buoyant, evolved nucleus. This nucleus then initiates deep-seated partial melting of mafic crust forming voluminous TTG-like units at ∼3.6 Ga. This ultimately serves to stabilize the crust and forms a nucleus for later formation of the Slave craton.”

Preservation of Earth-forming events in the tungsten isotopic composition of modern flood basalts

Hanika Rizo, Richard J. Walker, Richard W. Carlson, Mary F. Horan, Sujoy Mukhopadhyay, Vicky Manthos, Don Francis, Matthew G. Jackson

Science 13 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6287, pp. 809-812
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8563

“Isotopes isolated after impact

Details about how Earth formed are gleaned from the daughter products of certain short-lived radioactive isotopes found in rocks. Rizo et al. describe subtle tungsten isotope variations in rocks from the very deep mantle in Baffin Island and the Ontong Java Plateau (see the Perspective by Dahl). The results suggest that portions of Earth have remained unmixed since it formed. The unmixed deep mantle rocks also imply that Earth’s core formed from several large impact events.

Abstract

How much of Earth’s compositional variation dates to processes that occurred during planet formation remains an unanswered question. High-precision tungsten isotopic data from rocks from two large igneous provinces, the North Atlantic Igneous Province and the Ontong Java Plateau, reveal preservation to the Phanerozoic of tungsten isotopic heterogeneities in the mantle. These heterogeneities, caused by the decay of hafnium-182 in mantle domains with high hafnium/tungsten ratios, were created during the first ~50 million years of solar system history, indicating that portions of the mantle that formed during Earth’s primary accretionary period have survived to the present.”

Identifying remnants of early Earth

Tais W. Dahl

Science 13 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6287, pp. 768-769
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2482

“The chemical composition of Earth’s mantle can tell us how our planet formed and how subsequent mantle dynamics have since homogenized the mantle through convective processes. Most terrestrial rocks have a similar tungsten (W) isotope composition (1), but some rocks that have been dated at 2.8 Ga (billion years old) (2), 3.8 Ga (3), and 3.96 Ga (4) have elevated 182W/184W ratios. This is reported as µ182W, in parts per million (ppm) deviation from the bulk silicate Earth. Until now, the outliers have included only these ancient rock samples with a small µ182W excess (≤15 ppm) that can be attributed to the final ∼0.5% of Earth’s mass that accreted late in its accretion history. On page 809 of this issue, Rizo et al. (5) report W isotope data from young mantle-derived rocks with µ182W excesses of 10 to 48 ppm. This result is spectacular because the range of µ182W values in mantle-derived rocks is larger than can be accommodated by late accretion; the implication is that remnants of Earth’s earliest mantle have been preserved over the entirety of Earth’s history.”

Geochemistry and Nd isotopic characteristics of Earth’s Hadean mantle and primitive crust

J. O’Neil, H. Rizo, M. Boyet, R.W. Carlson, M.T. Rosing

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Available online 21 March 2016

abstract

“The Isua supracrustal belt (ISB) and the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt (NGB) are among the oldest suites of mafic volcanic rocks preserved on Earth and are the best candidates for representing its early crust. Despite the possible 500 Ma age difference between the belts, these mantle-derived rocks show compositional similarities, with features resembling rocks formed in subduction initiation environments. With the addition of new 142Nd data for the Garbenschiefer unit of the ISB reported here, high precision 142Nd data are now available for all the mafic lithologies from both belts. Mantle-derived rocks from both the ISB and NGB belts exhibit a range of 142Nd/144Nd ratios. The datasets for the two belts, however, are significantly different, suggesting a different origin for their 142Nd anomalies. Nearly all ISB samples have excesses in 142Nd, including the newly analyzed Garbenschiefer boninitic amphibolites (mean of +12 ppm+12 ppm). Excesses in 142Nd/144Nd compared to the Nd standard for all the ISB rocks range between +8 and +20 ppm+20 ppm, with a near Gaussian distribution around +12 ppm+12 ppm. This distribution could simply reflect the analytical error (±5 ppm) around a single 142Nd/144Nd ratio indicating that the samples formed after the extinction of 146Sm from a source with a nearly uniform 142Nd/144Nd ratio. In contrast, the NGB shows a range of 142Nd/144Nd ratios from +8 to −18 ppm−18 ppm relative to the modern Nd standard and displays a flat distribution of 142Nd/144Nd ratios. The ISB samples show no significant correlation between their 142Nd/144Nd and Sm/Nd ratios, consistent with their formation in the Eoarchean via melting of a Hadean depleted mantle. In contrast, all NGB samples display a 142Nd/144Nd vs. Sm/Nd correlation, consistent with their crystallization in the Hadean. The mantle sources for both the ISB and NGB mantle-derived rocks have a similar 142Nd/144Nd ratio at the possible age of formation of the NGB (∼4.3 Ga) suggesting the derivation of ISB and NGB rocks from a common early-formed depleted mantle source formed between 4.47 and 4.42 Ga with a 147Sm/144Nd ratio ∼0.218. This mantle appears to have been an important source component involved in the formation of the primitive crust during most of the Hadean and Eoarchean eons.”

Early Earth Differentiation Investigated Through 142Nd, 182W, and Highly Siderophile Element Abundances in Samples From Isua, Greenland

H. Rizo, R.J. Walker, R.W. Carlson, M. Touboul, M.F. Horan, I.S. Puchtel, M. Boyet, M.T. Rosing

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
doi:10.1016/j.gca.2015.12.007

abstract

“We report new data for W concentrations, stable W isotopic compositions, high-precision 182W/184W ratios, highly siderophile element (HSE) abundances and 187Re-187Os isotopic systematics in a suite of 3.8 Ga to 3.3 Ga mafic and ultramafic rocks from the Isua supracrustal belt, and the Paleoarchean terrane in the northwestern part of the belt. These data are compared with published data for 146Sm-142Nd systematics in the same samples. The samples from the Isua supracrustal belt show well resolved excesses of 182W/184W of up to ∼21 ppm, consistent with previous W isotopic data reported by Willbold et al. (2011). While there is abundant evidence that W was mobilized in the crust accessed by the Isua supracrustal suite, the isotopic anomalies are interpreted to primarily reflect processes that affected the mantle precursors to these rocks. The origin of the 182W excesses in these rocks remains uncertain. The Isua mantle source could represent a portion of the post-core-formation mantle that was isolated from late accretionary additions (e.g., Willbold et al., 2011). However, the combined 182W, Re-Os isotopic systematics, and HSE abundances estimated for the source of the Isua basalts are difficult to reconcile with this interpretation. The W isotope variations were more likely produced as a result of fractionation of the Hf/W ratio in the mantle during the lifetime of 182Hf, i.e., during the first 50 Ma of Solar System history. This could have occurred as a result of differentiation in an early magma ocean. The Isua suite examined is also characterized by variable 142Nd/144Nd, but the variations do not correlate with the variations in 182W/184W. Further, samples with ages between 3.8 Ga and 3.3 Ga show gradual diminution of 142Nd anomalies until these are no longer resolved from the modern mantle isotopic composition. By contrast, there is no diminishment of 182W variability with time, suggesting different mechanisms of origin and retention of isotopic variations for these two extinct-radionuclide isotope systems. The presence of 182W isotopic anomalies in rocks as young as 3.3 Ga, implies that early-formed, high Hf/W domains survived for more than 1 Ga in the convective mantle.”

Excavation and Melting of the Hadean Continental Crust by Late Heavy Bombardment

Yuhito Shibaike, Takanori Sasaki, Shigeru Ida

accepted for publication in Icarus

abstract

“No Hadean rocks have ever been found on Earth’s surface except for zircons—evidence of continental crust, suggesting that Hadean continental crust existed but later disappeared. One hypothesis for the disappearance of the continental crust is excavation/melting by the Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB), a concentration of impacts in the last phase of the Hadean eon. In this paper, we calculate the effects of LHB on Hadean continental crust in order to investigate this hypothesis. Approximating the size-frequency distribution of the impacts by a power-law scaling with an exponent {\alpha} as a parameter, we have derived semi-analytical expressions for the effects of LHB impacts. We calculated the total excavation/melting volume and area affected by the LHB from two constraints of LHB on the moon, the size of the largest basin during LHB, and the density of craters larger than 20 km. We also investigated the effects of the value of {\alpha}. Our results show that LHB does not excavate/melt all of Hadean continental crust directly, but over 70% of the Earth’s surface area can be covered by subsequent melts in a broad range of {\alpha}. If there have been no overturns of the continental crust until today, LHB could be responsible for the absence of Hadean rocks because most of Hadean continental crust is not be exposed on the Earth’s surface in this case.”

Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon

Elizabeth A. Bell, Patrick Boehnke, T. Mark Harrison, and Wendy L. Mao

PNAS2015 ; published ahead of print October 19, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1517557112

abstract
supporting information

Significance

Evidence for carbon cycling or biologic activity can be derived from carbon isotopes, because a high 12C/13C ratio is characteristic of biogenic carbon due to the large isotopic fractionation associated with enzymatic carbon fixation. The earliest materials measured for carbon isotopes at 3.8 Ga are isotopically light, and thus potentially biogenic. Because Earth’s known rock record extends only to ∼4 Ga, earlier periods of history are accessible only through mineral grains deposited in later sediments. We report 12C/13C of graphite preserved in 4.1-Ga zircon. Its complete encasement in crack-free, undisturbed zircon demonstrates that it is not contamination from more recent geologic processes. Its 12C-rich isotopic signature may be evidence for the origin of life on Earth by 4.1 Ga.

Abstract

Evidence of life on Earth is manifestly preserved in the rock record. However, the microfossil record only extends to ∼3.5 billion years (Ga), the chemofossil record arguably to ∼3.8 Ga, and the rock record to 4.0 Ga. Detrital zircons from Jack Hills, Western Australia range in age up to nearly 4.4 Ga. From a population of over 10,000 Jack Hills zircons, we identified one >3.8-Ga zircon that contains primary graphite inclusions. Here, we report carbon isotopic measurements on these inclusions in a concordant, 4.10 ± 0.01-Ga zircon. We interpret these inclusions as primary due to their enclosure in a crack-free host as shown by transmission X-ray microscopy and their crystal habit. Their δ13CPDB of −24 ± 5‰ is consistent with a biogenic origin and may be evidence that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged by 4.1 Ga, or ∼300 My earlier than has been previously proposed.

Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion year old zircon by Elizabeth Bell (SETI Talks)
Tuesday, February 16 2016

Core formation and core composition from coupled geochemical and geophysical constraints

James Badro, John P. Brodholt, Hélène Piet, Julien Siebert, and Frederick J. Ryerson

PNAS2015 ; published ahead of print September 21, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1505672112

Significance
We combine, for the first time to our knowledge, two approaches to study Earth’s core composition: a geochemical approach based on trace element depletion in the mantle and a geophysical approach based on a seismically lighter and faster (than pure iron−nickel) core. The joint approach allows making strong statements; first of all, as opposed to the current belief, Earth must have accreted material that is more oxidized than the present-day mantle, similar to that of planetesimals such as 4-Vesta, and got reduced to its present state during core formation. Secondly, core light-element concentrations in those conditions are 2.7% to 5% oxygen alongside 2% to 3.6% silicon; the oxygen concentrations in the core are higher than previously thought, and, conversely, silicon concentrations are lower than previous estimates.
Abstract
The formation of Earth’s core left behind geophysical and geochemical signatures in both the core and mantle that remain to this day. Seismology requires that the core be lighter than pure iron and therefore must contain light elements, and the geochemistry of mantle-derived rocks reveals extensive siderophile element depletion and fractionation. Both features are inherited from metal−silicate differentiation in primitive Earth and depend upon the nature of physiochemical conditions that prevailed during core formation. To date, core formation models have only attempted to address the evolution of core and mantle compositional signatures separately, rather than seeking a joint solution. Here we combine experimental petrology, geochemistry, mineral physics and seismology to constrain a range of core formation conditions that satisfy both constraints. We find that core formation occurred in a hot (liquidus) yet moderately deep magma ocean not exceeding 1,800 km depth, under redox conditions more oxidized than present-day Earth. This new scenario, at odds with the current belief that core formation occurred under reducing conditions, proposes that Earth’s magma ocean started oxidized and has become reduced through time, by oxygen incorporation into the core. This core formation model produces a core that contains 2.7–5% oxygen along with 2–3.6% silicon, with densities and velocities in accord with radial seismic models, and leaves behind a silicate mantle that matches the observed mantle abundances of nickel, cobalt, chromium, and vanadium.”

Pervasive remagnetization of detrital zircon host rocks in the Jack Hills, Western Australia and implications for records of the early geodynamo

Benjamin P. Weiss, Adam C. Maloof, Nicholas Tailby, Jahandar Ramezani, Roger R. Fu, Veronica Hanus, Dustin Trail, E. Bruce Watson, T. Mark Harrison, Samuel A. Bowring, Joseph L. Kirschvink, Nicholas L. Swanson-Hysell, Robert S. Coe

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 430, 15 November 2015, Pages 115–128
Available online 28 August 2015

It currently is unknown when Earth’s dynamo magnetic field originated. Paleomagnetic studies indicate that a field with an intensity similar to that of the present day existed 3.5 billion years ago (Ga). Detrital zircon crystals found in the Jack Hills of Western Australia are some of the very few samples known to substantially predate this time. With crystallization ages ranging from 3.0–4.38 Ga, these zircons might preserve a record of the missing first billion years of Earth’s magnetic field history. However, a key unknown is the age and origin of magnetization in the Jack Hills zircons. The identification of >3.9 Ga (i.e., Hadean) field records requires first establishing that the zircons have avoided remagnetization since being deposited in quartz-rich conglomerates at 2.65–3.05 Ga. To address this issue, we have conducted paleomagnetic conglomerate, baked contact, and fold tests in combination with U–Pb geochronology to establish the timing of the metamorphic and alteration events and the peak temperatures experienced by the zircon host rocks. These tests include the first conglomerate test directly on the Hadean-zircon bearing conglomerate at Erawandoo Hill. Although we observed little evidence for remagnetization by recent lightning strikes, we found that the Hadean zircon-bearing rocks and surrounding region have been pervasively remagnetized, with the final major overprinting likely due to thermal and/or aqueous effects from the emplacement of the Warakurna large igneous province at ∼1070 million years ago (Ma). Although localized regions of the Jack Hills might have escaped complete remagnetization, there currently is no robust evidence for pre-depositional (>3.0 Ga) magnetization in the Jack Hills detrital zircons.

Comment on: Pervasive remagnetization of detrital zircon host rocks in the Jack Hills, Western Australia and implications for records of the early dynamo, by Weiss et al. (2015)
Richard K. Bono, John A. Tarduno, Rory D. Cottrell

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 4 July 2016
LINK

“Highlights
• No evidence for Hadean zircon host rock pervasive remagnetization at 1078–1070 Ma.
• Large paleosecular variation recording is inconsistent with remagnetization.
• Paleomagnetic uncertainties of 65–75° are inappropriate for interpretation.”

Reply to comment
by Benjamin P. Weiss, Adam C. Maloof, T. Mark Harrison, Nicholas L. Swanson-Hysell, Roger R. Fu, Joseph L. Kirschvink, E. Bruce Watson, Robert S. Coe, Sonia M. Tikoo, Jahandar Ramezani

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 19 July 2016

LINK

“Highlights
• All of Weiss et al. (2015)’s Jack Hills field tests failed or were inconclusive.
• Hadean zircon host rocks likely pervasively remagnetized at 1078–1070 Ma.
• The ages of the Jack Hills zircons’ magnetizations are essentially unknown.”

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