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Ages and Growth of the Continental
Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
P. J. Patchett
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
S. D. Samson
Syracuse University, NY, USA


3.10.2 DETERMINATION OF AGES OF IGNEOUS EVENTS 322 Early Developments in U –Th –Pb Geochronology 322 U –Th –Pb Dating by TIMS—The Isotope Dilution Method 323 Zircon Evaporation Method 323 U –Th –Pb Dating by Ion Microprobe 324 U –Th –Pb Dating by ICP-MS 325 U –Th –Pb Dating of Monazite Using Only Uranium, Thorium, and Lead Concentrations 326
3.10.3 DETERMINATION OF AGES OF METAMORPHISM 327 40Ar/ 39Ar Thermochronology 327 Rb– Sr Dating 328 Sm–Nd and Lu –Hf Dating 329
3.10.4 DETERMINATION OF AGES OF UPLIFT OR EXHUMATION 329 40Ar/ 39Ar Dating of Potassium Feldspar 329 FT Dating of Apatite 330 (U –Th)/He Dating of Apatite 330
3.10.5 NEODYMIUM ISOTOPES AND CHEMICAL AGE OF CRUST 331 Sm–Nd Methodology 331 Juvenile Crust Production versus Intracrustal Recycling 333 Juvenile Crust Production at 1.9–1.7 Ga 333 Juvenile Crust Production in the Canadian Cordillera 334 Juvenile Crust Production in the Altaid Collage of Central Asia 337
3.10.6 ISOTOPES AND PRE-3 Ga Continental Crust 337 Existence of Ancient Continental Crust 337 Crustal Growth Events and Recycling into the Mantle 338 Acasta Gneisses, Northwest Territories, Canada 339 Narryer Terrane, Western Australia 340

3.10.1 SCOPE OF AVAILABLE METHODS questions of growth, evolution, and recycling

AND DATA processes in the continental crust are mature areas
of scientific inquiry. By this we understand that
The development and application of radiogenic many of the approaches used to date rocks and
isotopes to dating of geologic events, and to constrain the evolution of the continents are well

322 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
established, even routine, and that the scope of compilation in the impossible category for a
data available on age and evolution of continents chapter like this one. In this chapter, the state of
is very large. This is not to say that new the art in both geochronology and crustal origins
approaches have not been developed in recent will be illustrated by selected examples, not by
years, or that new approaches and/or insights global compilations or comprehensive discussions
cannot be developed in the future. However, the of each region that has been studied. Nevertheless,
science of continental crustal evolution is defi- some remarks about the availability of data from
nitely a domain where many of the problems are different parts of the world need to be made.
well defined, the power of the techniques used to As with other areas of geology, biology, and
solve them are well known, and the limitations of botany, the parts of the world that have been
field and laboratory databases, as well as the longest settled by western civilization have the
preserved geologic record, are understood. best data coverage for both ages of continental
From the very early days of crustal evolution rocks, and their origins and evolution. Thus,
studies, it was innovations and improvements Western Europe, Canada, the USA and Australia
in laboratory techniques that drove the pace of have generally somewhat thorough coverage.
discovery (e.g., Holmes, 1911; Nier, 1939). This More limited data have become available from
remained true through all the increments in Eastern Europe, Greenland, Central and South
capability reviewed in this chapter, up to the America, Africa, Asia, and Antarctica. Some of
present day. Thus, continental crustal evolution is these data have been produced by groups based in
an area of Earth science where a species of very those regions, but much of the data published
laboratory-oriented investigator, the “radiogenic between 1970 and today have been driven by
isotope geologist” or “geochronologist,” has made studies based in, and funded from, western
major advances, even breakthroughs, in under- countries. Availability of state-of-the-art results
standing. This is true in spite of the fact that many for ages of crust and its evolution are low in
of the individuals of the species may have lacked Antarctica and Greenland, where climate and ice
field expertise, or even more than a primitive level cover limit work, and in South America, Africa,
of geologic background. Because design and and parts of Asia, where studies have been
building of instruments like radiation detectors sporadic, and are certainly limited in some cases
or mass spectrometers requires a knowledge of by political instability. This general situation is
physics, many of the early practitioners of rock now changing, however. Two parts of the world
dating were physicists, like Alfred Nier (cited where results for ages of orogenic belts and for
above). Since the 1970s, essentially all mass crustal evolution in general are accumulating
spectrometers have been constructed by specia- more rapidly since about 1990 are China and
lized commercial firms, and the level of physics Russia; this is connected with growth of modern
expertise among isotope geologists has been lower. isotope geology facilities in those countries.
These firms, based mainly (but not exclusively) in Understanding of global continent growth and
and around Manchester, England, and Bremen, evolution is limited in critical respects by the large
Germany, have spearheaded technical innovations regions of the world that are poorly dated.
in mass spectrometry. Isotope geology researchers Therefore, gradual improvement of the state of
are one group of consumers for this technology, knowledge of less accessible parts of the con-
along with chemists, nuclear-weapon laboratories tinents will bring significant benefits, even though
and nuclear-power generating facilities. Today, the the conceptual issues may be understood to a large
vast majority of isotope geology researchers are extent.
derived from geological backgrounds.
This chapter will briefly review historical
aspects of the development of radiogenic isotope
geology as applied to continents. Some details, 3.10.2 DETERMINATION OF AGES
references and cross-references to other chapters OF IGNEOUS EVENTS
in this volume will be provided for most major Early Developments in U–Th–Pb
radiogenic isotopic methods, and for applications Geochronology
of these. However, this chapter will ultimately
concentrate on two major approaches that domi- Of all the different geochronological decay
nate the research field today: (i) crustal tectonic schemes that have been employed in crustal
and magmatic ages from U –Pb dating of acces- studies the U – Pb system is unique in that there
sory minerals like zircon; and (ii) crustal differ- are two radioactive parent isotopes (238U and
entiation and growth from neodymium isotopic U) that decay to two different daughter isotopes
determinations on total rocks. (206Pb and 207Pb). Because of this unique dual
The sheer amount of data available from decay scheme the U – Pb system has long been
continental areas, and the pace of data acquisition of considerable interest as a geochronological
today, places any geographically constrained technique. However, because of the extreme
Determination of Ages of Igneous Events 323
mobility of uranium, most U –Pb dates for whole- other aliquot directly measured for lead isotopic
rock samples were shown to be unreliable and the abundance. Following the first major production
focus went to analyzing uranium-bearing acces- of 205Pb from 205Bi, produced by proton bombard-
sory minerals that were far less susceptible to ment of enriched 206Pb (Krogh and Davis, 1975), a
uranium loss during weathering. Zircon, because second, larger production and worldwide distri-
of is extremely low initial lead content, its bution of high-purity 205Pb occurred (Parrish and
common occurrence in igneous rocks and its Krogh, 1987). Use of 205Pb eliminated the need
extreme chemical and physical resistance were a for aliquoting dissolved samples, and virtually
particular target for geochronological investi- all modern laboratories have since adopted the
gation, with the first analyses performed in the use of a 205Pb spike. This is of particular use to
1950s (Vinogradov et al., 1952; Tilton et al., U – Th– Pb dating of monazite, as it often contains
1955). Because zircon has such an extremely such a large abundance of 208Pbp (the asterisk
refractory nature, it is one of the most difficult denotes radiogenic lead) that a spike other than
minerals to dissolve; thus early studies used a one enriched in 208Pb is needed.
borax fusion technique to ensure digestion. While the general procedures for mineral
However, the very high lead content of the dissolution, separation of uranium and lead, and
borax (200 –1,000 ng g21 according to Krogh, mass spectrometry have not changed substantially
1973) minimized the utility of the technique. In since 1973, there has been a constant drive to
1971 it was demonstrated that zircon could be reduce the laboratory contamination level of lead,
completely dissolved in HF in high pressure combined with improvements in detection of
Teflonw-lined vessels (Krogh, 1971a,b) with a very small Pbþ ion beams, to allow for an
reduction in lead blank by three orders of ever-decreasing amount of sample required for
magnitude (Krogh, 1973). That analytical break- high-precision analysis. It is now common for
through, combined with the demonstration that the many U –Pb laboratories to report procedural lead
effects of lead loss in zircons could be minimized blanks of just a few picograms, and some labs
by mechanically abrading zircons (Krogh, 1982), have reduced lead blanks to the subpicogram
resulted in the exponential rise of the technique in level (e.g., Samson and D’Lemos, 1999; Corfu
a wide array of geological studies. U –Pb dating of and Easton, 2000; Ayer et al., 2002; Samson et al.,
accessory minerals, particularly zircon and bad- 2003). This reduction in blank level, combined
deleyite, is now considered the most reliable with the development of an emitter solution that
method for determining the crystallization ages of produces much stronger and more stable Pbþ
plutonic rocks, even those that have suffered beams than conventional silica gel (Gerstenberger
multiple episodes of metamorphism. U – Th –Pb and Haase, 1997), allows for a relatively precise
dating of monazite and U –Pb dating of titanite isotopic measurement of as little as 15– 20 pg of
have become extremely important methods for radiogenic lead. This amount is equivalent to the
constraining the timing of metamorphism. In situ typical lead content of very young (,10 Ma) or
methods of measuring U – Th –Pb isotopes, com- very small (,50 mm) single zircon crystals, or of
bined with imaging techniques such as cathodo- carefully extracted portions of single crystals.
luminescence, have made it possible to analyze
metamorphic overgrowths on accessory minerals
dramatically increasing our ability to precisely
date metamorphic events. Overall, the U – Th –Pb Zircon Evaporation Method
technique now dominates the field of geochrono- A variation of the method for determining
logy as applied to crustal evolution. Since the 207
Pb – 206Pb dates of whole single zircons by
1980s several different methodologies for deter- TIMS analysis that eliminates the need for zircon
mining U – Th –Pb dates have been developed and dissolution and chemical separation of lead was
these are briefly reviewed below. introduced by Kober (1986), with a slight, yet
important, modification described a year later U–Th–Pb Dating by TIMS—The Isotope (Kober, 1987). In the modified method, usually
Dilution Method referred to as the zircon evaporation method, a
single zircon crystal is placed into a folded side
The most common method of determining rhenium filament (the evaporation filament),
the U –Pb date of an accessory mineral is the which is positioned opposite of a blank rhenium
determination of uranium and lead isotopic ionization filament. The evaporation filament is
abundances via isotope dilution and thermal heated for a short time to evaporate lead onto
ionization mass spectrometry (ID-TIMS). Most the target ionization filament. The current to the
measurements in the 1970s and 1980s required evaporation filament is then turned off and the
that an aliquot of the dissolved mineral solution be ionization filament is heated until Pbþ ionization
made, with one portion being “spiked” with an begins and lead isotopic ratios are measured in the
enriched 235U and 208Pb tracer solution, and the normal fashion. Current to the ionization filament
324 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
is then turned off, the evaporation filament heated High-resolution ion microprobes (IMP) are
to a slightly higher temperature than previously, used for in situ U –Th – Pb dating by bombarding
and the process continually repeated until either the surface of a highly polished crystal, usually
an adequate number of ratios have been collected ground to half its original thickness, with a
or the lead in the zircon is exhausted. The main primary beam of O2 2 ions. These bombarding
advantages of the technique are that ultra-clean ions, produced by oxygen gas discharge within a
chemistry is not required, the measured hollow nickel cathode, sputter a small portion of
Pb/204Pb ratio is usually higher than ID-TIMS the zircon producing a wide variety of secondary
measurements of single zircons (as minimal lead ions. The secondary ions are doubly focused, first
blank is introduced), and no time is spent waiting through an electrostatic analyzer, which filters
for zircons to dissolve or in performing chemical them by their values of kinetic energy, then these
separations. The main disadvantage is that only ions are focused a second time by entering a
the age based on 207Pb– 206Pb can be obtained, magnetic sector, which discriminates between the
with no U – Pb information, and thus the degree of ions based solely on their mass. The magnetic
discordance of the analysis cannot be determined. sector is similar to that of thermal ionization mass
For zircons that experienced only modern-day spectrometers, but has a much larger radius and is
lead loss, this is not a problem, but for zircons that capable of operating at a much high mass
have suffered non-modern lead loss, the evapor- resolution (.5,000 compared to ,300) to allow
ation dates would be inaccurate. Critical to the discrimination of the uranium and lead isotopes
technique, therefore, is that identical dates are from ions with nominally similar masses produced
determined from each heating step and that during the sputtering process (e.g., 96Zr94Zr16Oþ
reproducible results are obtained from more than ions versus 206Pbþ ions for zircon analyses).
one zircon (Söderlund, 1996). Although some The secondary ion currents generated are very low
laboratories have embraced the technique, most and thus are measured using a single secondary
modern TIMS laboratories involved in U—Pb electron multiplier. 207Pb – 206Pb dates can be
geochronological studies still use the ID-TIMS directly determined for each elliptical region
method, with the goal of continuing to try to lower analyzed by directly comparing the 207Pbþ and
lead blanks to allow ever smaller samples to be 206
Pbþ ion beam currents, after correcting for
analyzed with high precision. common lead components (usually by measuring
the 204Pbþ peak). Determining 206Pbp/238U and
Pbp/232Th dates (Pbp denotes radiogenic lead)
cannot be accomplished by a direct comparison of U–Th–Pb Dating by Ion Microprobe 238 þ 232
U , Thþ, and 206Pbþ ion currents. This is
Although tremendous advances were made in because the measured 206Pb þ/ 238 Uþ and
geochronology with the advent of U – Pb dating
Pbþ/232Thþ ratios are not the same as the true
using chemical separation procedures and TIMS ratios but vary between 2 –5 times greater than the
analyses, there was an obvious need for a method actual ratios (see Stern (1997) for a discussion of
of in situ isotopic analysis of accessory minerals this phenomenon). This variation can be corrected
to more fully exploit the age information preserved because the ion beams display a systematic
in complex crystals (i.e., ones containing meta- relationship between 206Pbþ/238Uþ and UOþ/Uþ,
morphic overgrowths and/or xenocrystic regions, and between 208Pbþ/232Thþ and ThOþ/Thþ
etc.) The first response to this need was the (Hinthorne et al., 1979). Thus, by including
measurement of 207Pb– 206Pb dates using a sec- a mineral of known age and of uniform Pb/U
ondary ion microprobe mass analyzer (Anderson (or Th/Pb) in the target mount with the unknowns,
and Hinthorne, 1973). Following this work, a very a standardization curve can be established based
high mass resolution secondary ion mass spec- on the measured Pb/U and UO/U (or Pb/Th and
trometer (SIMS) was developed in Australia in the ThO/Th) of the standard, so that a normalization
late 1970s (Clement et al., 1977). This instrument, factor can be applied to the measured Pb/U,Th
coined the SHRIMP (for sensitive high resolution ratios of the minerals of unknown ages. The need
ion microprobe), is particularly suited for deter- for well-calibrated external mineral standards to
mining the age domains within complex crystals, determine ion microprobe U – Th –Pb dates is thus
as very small regions of a mineral can be analyzed directly analogous to the determination of
(e.g., Stern, 1997 reports that minimal “spot sizes” Ar/39Ar dates.
with surface dimensions of 4 £ 6 mm and depths of The uncertainty in the Pb/U– UO/U calibration
,1 mm can be obtained). The first age determi- curve must be propagated along with all of the
nations using the SHRIMP were published in 1982 other analytical uncertainties in the estimation of
(Compston et al., 1982), and only a year later the realistic errors of the calculated dates, rather than
instrument had been used to determine the age of quoting errors based only on counting statistics,
the first pre-4.0 Ga terrestrial mineral (Froude for example. For minerals containing low Pbp
et al., 1983). contents, either because they have low U –Th
Determination of Ages of Igneous Events 325
contents or because they are geologically young, using laser-ablation ICP-MS techniques.
counting statistics may have the dominant The obvious appeal of U – Th – Pb dating by
influence in error propagation; for minerals laser ablation ICP-MS is the elimination of
containing high Pbp content uncertainties in the the need for ultra-low blank dissolution and
calibration curve may have a larger influence on U – Th– Pb separation procedures, the speed of
the precision of the U – Pb dates. Although a the analysis (,10 min per analysis), and the
variety of factors may control the ion microprobe possibility of in situ analysis. However, there are
precision on any given zircon, typical levels of several analytical obstacles to obtaining accurate
precision that can be obtained can be estimated. U – Th– Pb dates via laser ablation that must be
For most zircons the 2s uncertainty in a single overcome. One of the most difficult problems is
U/206Pbp date is typically not more precise that there is significant elemental (i.e., U/Pb and
than 1.5– 2%. This level of precision is ,10 –20 Th/Pb) fractionation that occurs during laser
times larger than that obtainable via ID-TIMS ablation. That is, measured Pb/U ratios are lower
methods (see Figure 1). For zircons younger than than actual ratios by tens of percent, and this effect
1 Ga 207Pb – 206Pb dates are typically not more is variable with ablation time (see figure 4 in Horn
precise than ,5%, and typical values for zircon et al., 2000). A second effect, common to all mass
,500 Ma are more likely to be in the range of 10 – spectrometric measurements, is that there is an
20%. However, for zircons >1.5 Ga the relative instrumental mass bias, or discrimination. This
precision of a 207Pb– 206Pb date is considerably bias is several times higher than the bias that
higher, with values of ,0.5% obtainable. occurs during TIMS measurements and thus
would be a significant source of error if not
corrected. A third potential difficulty is determin- U–Th–Pb Dating by ICP-MS ing the amount of common lead in an analysis, as
the argon gas used in ICP-MS contains enough
In the early 1980s quadrupole mass spectro- mercury to cause isobaric interference of 204Pb
meters using argon plasma as the ionization from 204Hg. However, continued improvements
source, i.e., inductively coupled plasma mass are being made as this technique evolves (see
spectrometers (ICP-MS), were developed. below) and it may begin to approach ID-TIMS
Although these instruments were designed analysis in the future, at least for accessory
primarily for measuring the concentrations of minerals with relatively high radiogenic lead
trace elements, many studies have employed them contents.
for U – Pb dating. 206Pbp/238U, 207Pbp/235U, and Early attempts to directly date zircon crystals
208Pbp/232Th dates can be determined, in addition
using ICP-MS techniques involved the use of
to the more simply determined 207Pb– 206Pb dates, Nd – YAG lasers, operating at a 1,064 nm wave-
length, to ablate the zircon crystals (Feng et al.,
1993; Fryer et al., 1993). Because of significant
variations of U/Pb isotopic ratios, these early
laser-ablation studies concentrated on determining
Pb – 206Pb dates, which yielded precision
between 0.5 – 6.0% (e.g., Fryer et al., 1993;
Jackson et al., 1996). However, elemental frac-
tionation during laser ablation decreases with
decreasing wavelength (Geersten et al., 1994), and
thus by quadrupling the frequency of Nd –YAG
lasers (266 nm wavelength), or using gas-based
lasers operating in the deep UV (such as Ar – F
excimer lasers which produce light at 193 nm
(e.g., Eggins et al., 1998)), more reproducible
U/Pb ratios could be measured compared to the
earlier analyses using larger wavelengths. To
counterbalance the effects of laser-induced ele-
mental fractionation, as well as minimize tem-
Figure 1 U – Pb Concordia diagram showing the poral variations, many workers analyze externally
results of an analysis of a detrital zircon crystal by ion
calibrated standard minerals and unknowns
microprobe (SHRIMP) followed by analysis of the same
crystal using TIMS. Both error ellipses are plotted at under identical operating conditions, and then
2s. The best estimate of the age of crystallization of apply correction factors to the unknowns (e.g.,
the zircon is identical for both techniques; however, the Fernández-Suárez et al., 1999; Knudsen et al.,
TIMS analysis is an order of magnitude more precise 2001). In this respect, the technique shares strong
than that obtained using the ion microprobe (source similarities with ion microprobe U –Th – Pb age
Samson et al., 2003). determinations. A major difference between the
326 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
techniques, however, is that the volume of the pit site is still significant, however, and a correction
excavated by a laser is much larger than the must be applied to obtain accurate data. Horn et al.
spot produced by the ion microprobe (Figure 2), (2000) demonstrated that such fractionation is a
and thus laser ablation must be considered a function of pit geometry, thus allowing corrections
destructive technique. to be made by establishing an empirical correction
Precision of 206Pb/238U dates using external- curve using a standard zircon.
standard correction methods with frequency quad- In the 1990s, mass spectrometers with a magnetic
rupled lasers is partly dependent on sufficiently sector and a full array of Faraday detectors were
high uranium and lead concentrations, but typical coupled with a plasma source. These multi
values appear to be in the range of several percent. collector instruments (MC – ICP – MS) produce
Even higher reproducibility of U/Pb ratios (,2% the same flat-topped peaks produced by TIMS and
for 206Pb/238U of a Paleozoic zircon standard) from thus are capable of higher-precision isotope ratio
ablated zircons was reported by Horn et al. (2000). measurements than quadrupole-type instruments.
These workers used an excimer laser (193 nm There is considerable interest in using these new-
wavelength), which presumably results in less generation instruments for U – Th –Pb dating by
laser-induced elemental fractionation than studies directly analyzing zircon and monazite crystals via
employing 266 nm wavelength lasers. In addition, laser ablation, largely following the techniques
Horn et al. (2000) combined the laser ablation originally developed for quadrupole instruments.
with solution nebulization of known quantities of However, because MC –ICP – MS is such a new
Tl and enriched 235U. Comparing the measured technique, few U –Pb geochronological studies
Tl/235U with the known ratio allowed for a have so far been published discussing the
results obtainable using these multicollector instru-
correction factor for instrumental mass bias to be
ments (Machado and Simonetti, 2001). Based on
used on the measured 206Pb/238U ratio. By
the limited data currently available, it appears that
comparing the measured 203Tl/205TI ratio of the
typical 2s uncertainties for U – Pb dates on zircon
introduced Tl with its natural ratio, a correction
using multicollector instruments (e.g., 1 – 2%)
factor was applied to the measured lead isotopic are better, but not yet substantially so, than
ratios to further increase accuracy, an approach first those obtainable using quadrupole instruments.
described by Longerich et al. (1987). Ele- However, use of multicollector ICP – MS for
mental fractionation produced at the laser-ablation U – Pb dating is in its infancy and thus the tech-
nique may hold considerable potential as a
geochronological tool. U–Th–Pb Dating of Monazite Using

Only Uranium, Thorium, and Lead
The mineral monazite, a uranium- and
thorium-rich phosphate of a rare-earth element
(REE), is a common accessory mineral in a
variety of felsic igneous rocks and is a common
trace constituent in many metamorphic rocks,
particularly metapelites. Because of its high
uranium and thorium content, and fairly low
common lead content, it has often been dated
using ID-TIMS and IMP techniques. In the
early 1990s the potential of determining the age
of monazite using an electron microprobe
(EMP) was investigated (Suzuki and Adachi,
1991; Montel et al., 1994; Suzuki and Adachi,
1994). The so-called “chemical age” of a
Figure 2 Size of a typical pit produced in an accessory monazite crystal can be determined solely by
mineral using an ion microprobe during an 18 min
measuring its thorium, uranium, and lead
analytical run (from Stern, 1997) compared to the size
of an ablation crater made from a single pulse of an contents (no isotopic measurement) if the
excimer laser (from Horn et al., 2000). Bottom amount of common lead is negligible and no
drawings show generalized cross-sections of the spots post-crystallization loss or gain of uranium,
made from the two techniques. Note the considerably thorium and lead occurred (see review in
smaller volume of mineral excavated during the ion Montel et al., 1996). If these conditions are
microprobe analysis. met, then within ,100 – 200 million years
Determination of Ages of Metamorphism 327
the amount of accumulated Pb in a typical 3.10.3 DETERMINATION OF AGES
monazite is high enough that it can be measured OF METAMORPHISM
accurately and an age calculated. Precision of the
chemical age is largely governed by lead content From the very beginning of the pioneering days
of geochronology, it was noted that different
(as is true with all in situ techniques) and thus is
minerals from a single rock had different apparent
largely age dependent, but 2s precisions of
ages, suggesting that different minerals retained
10 – 20 Myr are now obtainable for very lead-rich
different proportions of radiogenic daughter
(.2,000 ppm) crystals, with errors around double
nuclides (e.g., Wetherill et al., 1955), thus setting
those values for monazite with lower lead contents the stage for future thermochronologic studies.
(Williams and Jercinovic, 2002). The main advan- By 1959, the use of radioactive decay schemes to
tage of the EMP technique is the excellent estimate the timing of metamorphism had been
spatial resolution that can be obtained; in situ specifically discussed (Compston and Jeffery,
analysis of monazites as small as 5 mm can be 1959; Tilton et al., 1959). Subsequently, a large
obtained from polished thin sections (Montel et al., number of papers were published involving
1996). This feature is of limited utility in dating Rb –Sr and K – Ar dating of different minerals
relatively large (radius ¼ 30 mm) monazites with within metamorphic rocks, establishing the begin-
simple histories, but is invaluable for studies where ning of a database of the history of continental
in situ analysis is critical, such as determining the crustal deformation. With the introduction of the
age of monazites that occur as inclusions in 40
Ar/39Ar technique (Merrihue and Turner, 1966)
porphyroblasts (e.g., Williams et al., 1999; Montel and the seminal discussion of the concept of
et al., 2000). Employing such high spatial resolu- mineral closure temperature (Dodson, 1973) the
tion must be used with considerable caution, field of thermochronology became firmly estab-
however, as accurate ages can only be obtained if lished and its impact on our understanding of the
no lead diffusion has occurred within the restricted tectonic evolution of orogenic belts has been
region of the crystal being analyzed. profound. Because Chapter 3.08 is devoted to the
The current emphases of the technique are to discussion of crustal metamorphism, only a brief
constrain the timing of multiple metamorphic review of current thermochronologic techniques
events, to determine directly the timing of and their applications to continental crustal
deformational events, and to provide links between evolution is given here. Because the U –Th – Pb
metamorphism and deformation (see review by system is discussed in detail above, a separate
Williams and Jercinovic, 2002). The main limi- section on its application specifically to constrain-
tation of chemical dating of monazite by EMP, ing the timing of metamorphism is beyond the
aside from the necessity of perfect closed-system scope of this chapter. Reviews of U – Pb geochro-
behavior of the region of the mineral being nology applied to metamorphic studies can be
analyzed, is the detection limit of lead, typically a found in Heaman and Parrish (1991) and Mezger
few hundred ppm for most instruments. This and Krogstad (1997). Recent discussions of the
limitation usually precludes the analysis of mon- formation of metamorphic zircon domains and
azites younger than ,100– 200 Ma. The feasibility interpretation of geochronologic data can be found
of determining chemical ages of young monazites in Fraser et al. (1997) and Bingen et al. (2001),
containing only a few tens of ppm lead was and reference therein.
demonstrated by Cheburkin et al. (1997) by using a
newly designed X-ray fluorescence microprobe.
Improvements on the original instrument design 40
allow for chemical dating of monazite as young as Ar/39Ar Thermochronology
15 Ma and as small as 50 mm (Engi et al., 2002); 40
Ar/39Ar dating is a variation of conventional
however, the monazites could not be measured K – Ar technique in that potassium-bearing
in situ. In a companion study, Scherrer et al. (2002) samples are irradiated with neutrons to produce
determined chemical ages of monazites that were 39
Ar from 39K, thereby eliminating the need for
first optically examined in thin section, thus still separate measurements of potassium and argon on
preserving full textural context of the analysis, but two separate aliquots of a sample (see McDougall
were then removed from the thin sections by and Harrison, 1999 for a detailed review). In the
drilling with a diamond microdrill. Although this is 1970s most studies of metamorphosed crustal
a labor-intensive procedure compared to EMP regions utilized the technique in a similar fashion
dating, and still cannot be done on very small to previous K – Ar studies, i.e., determining
monazites, an X-ray microprobe age of Ar/39Ar dates of different metamorphic minerals
55.3 ^ 2 Ma was determined for a 54 ^ 1 Ma and inferring the cooling history based on
monazite (208Pb/232Th TIMS date), demonstrating estimates of the argon closure temperature in
the much higher precision of the X-ray microprobe the mineral (e.g., Lanphere and Albee, 1974;
technique compared to the EMP technique. Dallmeyer, 1975; Dallmeyer et al., 1975, and
328 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
many others). In these studies milligram-sized well-defined textural context to better interpret the
mineral separates were step-heated in a furnace significance of the constructed isochrons. Some
and the argon gas released during each tempera- recent examples are given below.
ture step was isotopically analyzed. Lasers were Because of its common occurrence in meta-
used to heat smaller samples, first on lunar rocks morphic rocks, garnet separates have been an
(e.g., Megrue, 1973), and subsequently on terres- obvious choice of one of the components to be
trial samples (e.g., York et al., 1981; Maluski and incorporated in mineral Rb – Sr isochrons in
Schaeffer, 1982; Sutter and Hartung, 1984), metamorphic studies (see above). Building on
although most of these early studies produced that previous work, Christensen et al. (1989)
only total-fusion 40Ar/39Ar dates. Layer et al. sliced large (3 cm) single garnets into separate
(1987) demonstrated that detailed age spectra pieces for Rb –Sr isotopic analysis along with the
could be determined from single hornblende and rock matrix between the garnets. The outer
biotite crystals using a defocused continuous laser portions of the garnets were sufficiently higher
beam. in 87Sr/86Sr compared to central rim portions that
The advantage of laser microprobe 40Ar/39Ar growth rates of the garnets (1.0 – 1.7 mm Myr21)
analyses is the ability of in situ analysis. Spatial and duration of total garnet growth (9 –13 Myr21)
resolution of 50 –100 mm can be achieved using could be determined. Vance and O’Nions (1990)
lasers in the visible and near-infrared wave- followed a similar procedure measuring both
lengths, although these are best for minerals that Rb – Sr and Sm –Nd isotopic parameters on single
are strong absorbers of such wavelengths such as garnet sections obtained by sawing garnet crystals
biotite, phlogopite, and hornblende (see review by into inner, middle, and outer portions. The
Kelley, 1995). With the employment of UV lasers ,448 Ma isochrons that were obtained presum-
in 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology spatial resolution ably established the timing of prograde growth of
increased considerably (,10 mm width) as well the garnets from that region of Newfoundland.
the ability to analyze most silicate minerals, In a different approach to determining the
including white mica and feldspar that are poor timing of prograde metamorphism, Burton and
absorbers of higher-wavelength energy (Kelley O’Nions (1991) analyzed the isotopic composition
et al., 1994). Important applications of this of small (1 mm) garnets from interlayered meta-
technique to crustal metamorphic studies include sedimentary rocks that experienced a common
the direct dating of deformation fabrics (e.g., P – T– t history, but one in which garnets formed at
Reddy et al., 1996), dating different portions of two different P – T conditions, as a function of
single P– T paths (e.g., DiVincenzo et al., 2001) different H2O activities. Based on the determined
and dating of mineral inclusions in porphyroblasts Rb – Sr isochrons the lower P– T garnets formed at
(Kelley et al., 1997). Further discussions of the 437.3 ^ 11.4 Ma and the higher P – T garnets at
modern applications of 40Ar/39Ar dating to con- 423.5 ^ 4.7 Ma, in excellent agreement with the
strain the timing of metamorphic events are given determined Sm – Nd isochrons (434.1 ^ 1.2 Ma
by Hodges in Chapter 3.08. and 424.6 ^ 1.2 Ma, respectively). These ages,
when combined with the paleothermometric and
barometric data, provided a significant amount of
information on the rate of metamorphic processes Rb–Sr Dating
in this region of Norway. These types of studies in
It was recognized early on that the Rb – Sr similar regions of crustal thickening should
system was particularly useful for constraining the provide an advance in our understanding of the
timing of metamorphic events because of the lithospheric thermal response during collisional
significant degree of rubidium and strontium tectonics.
diffusion that occurs between minerals With the demonstration that extremely small
during metamorphism. By constructing Rb – Sr amounts of meteoritic material could be dated via
mineral isochrons the timing of diffusion (i.e., Rb – Sr “microchrons” (Papanastassiou and
metamorphism) can be determined, assuming Wasserburg, 1981) the path was opened for
complete isotopic re-equilibration occurred during microanalysis of terrestrial samples, allowing
a discrete metamorphic event and the system much more control over the Rb – Sr dating of
remained closed to any further disturbance metamorphic material than previously possible.
(e.g., Fairbairn et al., 1961). Important early By analyzing small quantities of white mica from
work in contact metamorphic zones constrained metamorphosed rocks the Rb – Sr system is
the behavior of Rb – Sr in mineral systems (Hart, capable of providing ages of formation, rather
1964; Hanson and Gast, 1967). The Rb – Sr than cooling ages, thus establishing the time of at
method continues to play a very important role least one specific event in the metamorphic history
in studies of the deformational and metamorphic of an area (e.g., Cliff, 1994; Chen et al., 1996).
history of crustal regions, but the focus has shifted These types of studies have been further refined
towards determining the ages of minerals within a and the more recent microchron methods employ
Determination of Ages of Uplift or Exhumation 329
a micro-drill and petrographic microscope to very narrow regions of silicate minerals (e.g.,
allow very specific areas of a geological thick Müller et al., 2000a), it is likely that future studies
section (,50 mm) to be sampled with complete will focus on selecting even more specific regions
textural control. Müller et al. (2000a) demon- within single garnets for thermochronology.
strated the power of this technique by determining The ability to select specific intracrystalline
Rb – Sr dates of white mica from mylonites, which regions for analysis (e.g., Ducea et al., 2003),
developed under greenschist facies metamorphic combined with increasingly sophisticated leach-
conditions, from shear zones in the eastern Alps. ing techniques to minimize the effect of micro-
In an even more novel approach, the timing of inclusion contamination (e.g., Amato et al., 1999;
the duration of shearing was established by Anczkiewicz et al., 2002), should increase the
determining Rb –Sr dates of micromilled samples accuracy and precision of garnet thermochrono-
of crystal fibers that developed in the strain fringe logy. Similarly, the increasing number of isotope
around pyrite grains from a fault zone in the laboratories with MC – ICP – MS instruments
northern Pyrenees (Müller et al., 2000b). These capable of analyzing very small quantities of
types of studies are just at their beginning stages hafnium will likely cause a dramatic increase in
but appear to be poised to revolutionize our ability the number of metamorphic studies employing
to determine the timing, and possibly duration, of Lu –Hf garnet dating. When such studies are
different deformational events, a critical step to combined with the recent advances in experimen-
more fully understanding all aspects of crustal tal studies of REE diffusion and reexamination of
evolutionary processes. concepts of closure ages (Ganguly et al., 1998;
Ganguly and Tirone, 1999, 2001; Albarède,
2003), substantial progress should be made in Sm–Nd and Lu–Hf Dating our understanding of the timing and duration of
The main target of Sm –Nd and Lu –Hf dating in prograde versus retrograde metamorphic reac-
metamorphic studies continues to be the mineral tions. P – T –t studies will thus become ever more
garnet. Garnet is a major constituent in many important to crustal evolution studies as a whole
metamorphic rocks; it preferentially incorporates as the link between geochronology and meta-
heavy rare earth elements, and hence can have very morphic textural context becomes increasingly
high 147Sm/144Nd (e.g., Stosch and Lugmair, 1987) strengthened (e.g., Müller, 2003).
and 176Lu/177Hf ratios (e.g., Duchêne et al., 1997),
and it has been widely used in thermobarometric
studies, thus potentially providing a direct link
between time and P –T conditions. In addition,
garnet has a relatively high closure temperature for
both the Sm –Nd (Mezger et al., 1992; Ganguly Determining the magnitude and timing of
et al., 1998) and Lu – Hf systems (Scherer et al., crustal uplift or exhumation of orogenic belts are
2000), thus increasing its attraction as a useful critical to our understanding of the crustal
mineral in determining the timing of metamorphic evolution of the regions investigated. Under
events. Early studies were geared towards deter- favorable conditions, the magnitude of the
mining the timing of garnet growth during exhumation of part of the crust can be estimated
prograde metamorphism and relied on analyzing by geobarometry. If geobarometric information is
very large garnets (Vance and O’Nions, 1990; combined with measured “cooling ages” of
Mezger et al., 1992; Getty et al., 1993). Caution different minerals with very different closure
must be used in interpretation of these types of temperatures, then the average rate of crustal
analyses, however, as it may be inclusions of REE- exhumation can be estimated. Of most interest to
rich accessory minerals, and not the garnet itself, the majority of uplift/exhumation studies are
that dominates the Sm – Nd budget (see De Wolf relatively low-temperature (50– 300 8C) thermo-
et al., 1996 for a discussion). These types of chronologic techniques. Three such techniques,
analyses can provide information about garnet from highest to lowest closure temperature, are
growth only if the inclusions and host garnet grew discussed.
simultaneously or if the inclusions were isotopi-
cally equilibrated with the host matrix. In a more
recent study, cores of up to 50 single garnets were 40
Ar/39Ar Dating of Potassium Feldspar
mechanically isolated and then combined for
Sm –Nd analysis in an effort to minimize the Most common potassium-bearing minerals lose
effects of averaging of different zones and thus variable amounts of radiogenic argon at geologi-
provide better constraints on the timing of peak cally modest temperatures, which at first glance
metamorphism (Argles et al., 1999). With the would appear to make 40Ar/39Ar dating of limited
increased availability of computer-controlled geochronological use. However, argon diffusion
microdrilling devices, ones capable of isolating appears to be a thermally activated process thus
330 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
40 39
making the Ar/ Ar technique an excellent and at ,100 8C (e.g., 105 ^ 10 8C; Parrish, 1983).
widely used thermochronometer (see Section Assigning an FT closure temperature is much less and Chapter 3.08). One of the most straightforward than the retention of a daughter
important recent applications of 40Ar/39Ar dating isotope, however, as there are no geological
to apparent uplift/exhumation studies is potassium temperatures, even 20 8C, at which annealing
feldspar thermochronology. An early assumption can be considered negligible (Donelick et al.,
was that single closure temperatures (Tc) could be 1990). Also, chemically different apatites can
determined for potassium feldspars from slowly exhibit significantly different annealing behaviors
cooled plutons by using the 40Ar/39Ar data (e.g., Green et al., 1989).
from the lower temperature (,600 8C) steps of a Because FT formation can be viewed as a
step-heating analysis (e.g., Heizler et al., 1988), continuous, constant process each track has the
consistent with single diffusion domains within the potential to experience a different segment of the
feldspars. Lovera et al. (1989) demonstrated incon- thermal history of the rock containing the apatite
sistencies with cooling rates determined by the crystal. Thus each track could become shortened
specific closure temperatures and those calculated (annealed) to varying degrees, depending on the
by examining the release spectra and thus suggested thermal history, and if accurate models of FT
that the feldspar diffusion domains were of variable annealing can be made then the distribution of
size, a suggestion also made by Zeitler (1988). In track lengths can provide considerable insight into
subsequent work, Lovera and Richter (1991) further that thermal history (e.g., Green et al., 1986, and
demonstrated the multidomain behavior offeldspars references therein). A primary objective of
by demonstrating the same phenomenon even when annealing experiments is therefore to establish a
analyzing single crystals. Of particular importance thermal model that describes the behavior of FT
was the demonstration that modeling the thermal systematics over geological time scales (e.g.,
history of feldspar was largely independent of Laslett et al., 1987, and many others). Fitting FT
domain geometry, size, and volume fraction. Thus, data from natural samples to such models may
by measuring the 39Ar release spectra from a large allow significant constraints to be placed on the
number of heating steps of potassium feldspar from past uplift/exhumation history of a crustal region,
a single rock, and generating Arrhenius plots from one of the most significant goals of FT thermo-
those data, an apparently very robustly modeled chronology. Such studies have been applied to the
cooling history can be obtained. A wide number of unroofing history of a large number of orogenic
such cooling studies have now been made (see belts (e.g., Fitzgerald et al., 1995; Gallagher et al.,
McDougall and Harrison (1999) for full references). 1998).
Such studies when used in conjunction with other A potential problem with some of the earlier
low-temperature techniques such as apatite fission annealing models, upon which most FT thermal
track (FT) analysis and (U–Th)/He dating (see studies of sedimentary basins have been based, is
below) can provide a very substantial percentage that they characterize only a single type of apatite
of the full cooling path encountered by specific (i.e., the models are monokinetic), which may not
regions of crust. always be applicable given the demonstration of
different annealing properties of apatites of
different composition (Green et al., 1989; Carlson FT Dating of Apatite et al., 1999). Significant advances have being
In 1962 it was demonstrated that by chemically made in multikinetic thermal modeling of apatite
etching a uranium-bearing mineral the paths, or FT annealing (Ketcham et al., 1999), which has
tracks, traveled by the fragments arising from the the potential to significantly advance the level of
spontaneous fission of 238U could easily be viewed modeling of sedimentary basin thermal evolution
with an optical microscope (Price and Walker, as well as refine further crustal uplift and
1962). A year later the first FT date of a mineral exhumation studies.
had been published (Price and Walker, 1963). The
track, caused by disruption of the crystal lattice (U–Th)/He Dating of Apatite
from the oppositely moving fission fragments, is
initially ,16– 17 mm in length in apatite crystals Some of the earliest attempts at dating uranium-
(after etching), but becomes increasingly shor- bearing minerals were made by measuring the
tened, or annealed, with both increasing time and accumulation of helium in crystals from the
temperature (e.g., Gleadow et al., 1986). The a-decay of uranium and thorium. Two efforts
maximum temperatures that can be reached and that immediately predated the development of
still retain abundant FTs vary with different modern geochronology were Hurley (1954) and
minerals, in the same way as does the closure Damon (1957). Because of the ease of helium
temperature for retention of a specific radiogenic diffusion, however, the dates calculated were
daughter isotope. For apatite, such a closure shown to be too young in most cases and the
temperature with regard to FTs is generally quoted technique was soon abandoned in favor of
Neodymium Isotopes and Chemical Age of Crust 331
U –Th – Pb isotopic techniques. A resurgence of of the Earth to ,0.51264 today (Jacobsen and
interest in the technique began in the late 1980s Wasserburg, 1984), with the highest values of
with a more thorough quantitative understanding major rock reservoirs under mid-ocean ridges
of the diffusive behavior of helium in different possessing values ,0.5132. Because the precision
minerals (Zeitler et al., 1987). It has now been of measurement on this ratio is typically
demonstrated that the mineral apatite has a closure ,5 £ 1026 from modern mass spectrometers,
temperature for helium of ,70 8C (Wolf et al., subtle variations of 143Nd/144Nd are actually
1996) and thus is well suited as a very low- quite easily discernible.
temperature thermochronometer, that can further Samarium and neodymium are both REEs.
extend information relating to a variety of uplift They therefore belong to a series of elements that
and shallow crustal studies (see reviews by Farley, have a very important role in geochemistry, due to
2002; Ehlers and Farley, 2003). The typical progressive chemical fractionations that occur
method of determining a (U –Th)/He date is by between the lighter and heavier REE. Although
extraction of helium gas either with a furnace samarium and neodymium are adjacent elements
(e.g., Zeitler et al., 1987; Lippolt et al., 1994; in the naturally occurring REE series, fractiona-
Wolf et al., 1996) or by laser (e.g., House et al., tion between them is a little larger than for two
2000) followed by mass spectrometric analysis, elements with sequential atomic numbers, because
usually with small quadrupole-based instruments. there is a missing element between them,
After helium extraction, the apatite grains are promethium, which has no stable isotope. The
recovered and dissolved for measurement of utility of the Sm – Nd isotopic method in crustal
uranium and thorium abundances. There does history is driven by the fact that upper continental
not appear to be any loss of thorium or uranium crust acquires, due to igneous differentiation, a
during the vacuum extraction of the helium. parent/daughter ratio 147Sm/144Nd that is ,45%
Before the timing of helium closure can be lower than that of undifferentiated Earth, and
calculated from the collected data, a correction lower still compared to typical depleted upper
factor must be applied because of the phenomenon mantle sources. This fractionation is due to mantle
of a ejection (see Farley et al., 1996). The a minerals such as garnet, clinopyroxene, and
particles produced from uranium and thorium orthopyroxene having lower distribution coeffi-
decay can travel 20 mm through an apatite crystal cients for light REE than for heavy REE, so that
lattice, thus a particles will be ejected (i.e. helium neodymium is partitioned into magmas slightly
loss) when the parent nucleus occurs near the edge more strongly than samarium when mantle
of the crystal. Corrections for this helium loss sources are melted. Because the 147Sm/144Nd
must be estimated, and are based on the assump- ratio tends to be reasonably constant in average
tions of idealized crystal geometry and near upper crustal rocks like granite, felsic gneiss and
homogeneous distribution of uranium and tho- shale, and always ,45% lower than upper mantle
rium. The correction factors to the age, based on values, the evolution of 143Nd/144Nd in upper
the size of the crystal, are typically between 1.2 crustal rocks slows down compared to the
and 1.5 (Ehlers and Farley, 2003), with uncertain- undifferentiated Earth and to upper mantle
ties in the correction factors increasing with reservoirs, always by about the same amount.
decreasing crystal size. For moderate to large Thus, the 143Nd/144Nd ratio measured in a crustal
apatite crystals (i.e., those occurring in typical rock is usually a good reflection of the average age
plutonic rocks) the reproducibility of helium of mantle separation of the materials in the rock.
cooling ages, combining analytical errors The rather constant fractionation of Sm/Nd
with uncertainties in a ejection correction factors, ratios in upper continental crustal rock reservoirs
is ,^5% (Ehlers and Farley, 2003). is the basis for the widely applied neodymium
model age that is illustrated in Figure 3. The
Sm – Nd systematics of chondritic meteorites
serve as a reference for the parent/daughter ratio
3.10.5 NEODYMIUM ISOTOPES of the undifferentiated Earth (Jacobsen and
AND CHEMICAL AGE OF CRUST Wasserburg, 1984), labeled as CHUR for Sm–Nd Methodology “chondritic uniform reservoir.” The evolution of
this undifferentiated Earth is the basis for
The Sm – Nd isotopic method depends upon the calculation of CHUR model ages (McCulloch
decay of 147Sm, comprising ,15% of natural and Wasserburg, 1978), while the neodymium
samarium, to 143Nd by a-decay. With a reasonably isotopic evolution of the depleted upper part of
well-known decay constant of 6.54 £ 10212 yr21 the mantle is a more valid reference for most
(Lugmair and Marti, 1978; Begemann et al., crustal materials, resulting in the DM model
2001), production of 143Nd is slow. The ratio age (DePaolo, 1981). Neodymium isotopic
143Nd/ 144Nd, which is measured by isotope compositions are usually given by 1Nd, where
geologists, changed from ,0.50687 at the birth the deviations of 143Nd/144Nd above or below
332 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes

Figure 3 Sm – Nd systematics for crustal model ages and 1Nd values. The parameter
1Nd ¼ 104 :½143 Nd=144 NdðsampleÞ 2143 Nd=144 NdðCHURÞ=143 Nd=144 NdðCHURÞ; where all 143Nd/144Nd values are
specified at the age of interest (t). CHUR Nd isotopic values can be obtained from the following equation:
Nd/144Nd(CHUR,t) ¼ 0.512638-0.1966.(elt-1), where l ¼ 6.54 £ 10212 a21. All crustal materials evolve
towards negative 1Nd with time, because the evolution of 143Nd/144Nd is slower than the chondritic or bulk
silicate Earth reference (CHUR). Nd model ages of crust can be calculated based on the chondritic reference
(TCHUR) or on the intersection with the approximate evolution of depleted upper mantle sources (TDM). TDM is
generally more meaningful for juvenile crustal rocks produced during plate-tectonic cycles, because it models
the average separation age from the type of mantle that is commonly observed as a source of both oceanic crust
and island arcs today. Note that the depleted mantle evolution is here shown as a straight line, but is very
slightly concave-upwards in the model of DePaolo (1981).

CHUR are given as parts in 10,000 (see Figure 3 sources that bestow usefulness on neodymium
and caption). Because of their Sm/Nd ratios below isotopic variations, and no matter how complex
CHUR (see Chapter 3.01), all continental crustal the origin of a crustal rock, it is those age
reservoirs evolve towards negative 1Nd with time. differences that are the ultimate basis for any
It is important to understand that whether interpretation. This is clearly seen, e.g., in the
neodymium model ages are an explicit part of similarity of Sm – Nd systematics in many of the
the discussion (as in DePaolo, 1981), or are de- world’s major rivers today (Goldstein et al., 1984).
emphasized in favor of an interpretation based on Lu –Hf isotope systematics provide an impor-
1Nd values (e.g., Patchett et al., 1999), the utility tant complement to Sm – Nd in the study of the
of the Sm – Nd method in crustal evolution is crust and mantle (e.g., Patchett et al., 1981; Salters
ultimately based on the reproducible Sm/Nd and Hart, 1991; Vervoort and Blichert-Toft,
fractionation that occurs between crust and 1999). In the crustal context, Lu –Hf is extremely
mantle. Note that the Sm/Nd fractionation of important because of the ,1% hafnium content of
more primitive crust of intermediate composition zircon, and the consequent ability to isotopically
(Figure 3), such as basaltic andesite or andesite, characterize the hafnium within grains that have
does not evolve to negative 1Nd so rapidly as fully been U – Pb dated (Patchett et al., 1981; Corfu and
differentiated upper continental felsic crust. In Stott, 1996; Vervoort et al., 1996; Amelin et al.,
this way, the neodymium isotopic composition 1999). However, the Lu – Hf isotopic system is
of a crustal rock depends on the average mantle currently overshadowed by a controversy over the
differentiation age of the components that went decay constant. For many years, a value for the
into making it. The origin of some crustal rocks 176
Lu decay constant of 1.94 £ 10211 yr21, based
can be very complicated, e.g., a granitoid on the eucrite meteorite isochron of Patchett and
melted from complex lower crustal sources Tatsumoto (1980) and Tatsumoto et al. (1981)
(Chapter 3.11), or a sedimentary rock derived was used. More recent physical determinations
from erosion of multiple terrains. Thus, a single reviewed by Begemann et al. (2001) have high
model age for a granitoid or a sedimentary rock can dispersion, but do not seem to corroborate the
be quite misleading in terms of real geological 1.94 £ 10211 value. At the present time, there is a
events and processes. Nevertheless, it is the discrepancy between values based on U –Pb-dated
differences in age of separation from mantle terrestrial Precambrian REE-rich minerals, such
Neodymium Isotopes and Chemical Age of Crust 333
as apatite, which suggest a decay constant of neodymium ages similar to the orogenic age, but
1.865 £ 10211 (Scherer et al., 2001), and meteor- other belts might be dominated by materials
ite isochrons, that suggest values of (1.93 – recycled from older crustal terrains. Because the
1.98) £ 10211 (Bizzarro et al., 2003; Blichert-Toft sedimentary system is a powerful mover of crustal
et al., 2002). For this reason, we mostly do not detritus over large geographic scales, and because
include Lu –Hf isotopic data in discussion of melting to produce granitoid batholiths often
crustal age and origins. Lu –Hf data are of con- averages large domains of lower continental
siderable importance in studies of early Archean crust, orogenic belts very often have mixed origins
rocks (see Section, and this uncertainty in terms of the crustal age of their components.
should be resolved as rapidly as possible. Regional maps of crustal age based on neody-
mium model ages, even without the references to
the isotopic work, appear quite often in the Juvenile Crust Production versus literature and in presentations (e.g., Karlstrom
Intracrustal Recycling et al., 1999). The coverage of U –Pb ages and
neodymium isotopic data is not yet sufficient to
It is fundamental to the neodymium isotopic draw robust global maps, and because the current
approach that neodymium isotopes are able to pace of data accumulation is high, we do not
distinguish between material added newly to the attempt to compile global maps in this chapter.
Earth’s continents and material that is merely Instead, the approaches will be illustrated with
recycled older crustal rock. This is important examples.
because sedimentary rocks derived from erosion
of older continent may appear quite similar to
those derived from erosion of young island-arc Juvenile Crust Production at 1.9–1.7 Ga
terrain, and unless they show marked S-type
characteristics, granitoids are notoriously similar The abundant crust that was produced in the
to each other, regardless of their ultimate origin. 1.9 –1.7 Ga interval has been the subject of
Thus, in a world where all regions of continents numerous studies, and the evolution of that work
had been characterized for both orogenic ages and illustrates important elements in study of
neodymium isotopic characteristics, one could the continental crust. Following the demon-
draw two global maps. One would show orogenic- stration of a juvenile origin for the ,1.8 Ga
belt ages, representing times of consolidation of crustal assemblage in Colorado (DePaolo, 1981),
regions of the continents, while the other would there followed a period in which neodymium
show generally older neodymium-based average isotopic data were gathered for numerous
ages, that would represent the true differentiation terrains in the northern continents (Figure 4). In
age of the crust. Some orogenic belts might North America, studies by Nelson and DePaolo
consist of dominantly juvenile crust, with (1984, 1985), Bennett and DePaolo (1987),

Figure 4 Regions of crust of different ages described in this chapter. Dot pattern represents 1.9– 1.7 Ga juvenile
crust of North America, Greenland, and Europe. Diagonal lines represent juvenile crust of the Altaid collage of
orogenic belts and of the Canadian – Alaskan Cordillera. Black rectangles are locations of small regions of pre-3 Ga
crust: WG—west Greenland; La—Labrador; MN—Minnesota; Ac—Acasta Gneiss Complex, northwestern Canada;
Swz—Swaziland; Nar—Narryer terrane, western Australia.
334 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
Chauvel et al. (1987), Barovich et al. (1989), and yet really clear if the 1.9 –1.7 Ga crust of the
Bowring and Podosek (1989) added rapidly to northern continents could represent juvenile
the database. In Greenland and Europe, work by terrain gathered from the rest of the globe, as
Patchett and Bridgwater (1984), Skiöld and Cliff suggested by Patchett and Arndt (1986) and
(1984), Kalsbeek and Taylor (1985), Patchett and Patchett and Chase (2002). That would be a
Kouvo (1986), Huhma (1986), Kalsbeek et al. model where the 1.9 –1.7 Ga period could have
(1987), Claesson (1987) and Patchett et al. (1987) shown normal crustal growth rates, but where
performed the same function. All of the studies plate tectonics had grouped the juvenile crustal
cited above documented a high proportion of products into restricted regions. If the continental
juvenile crust production in the 1.9 – 1.7 Ga regions that are currently poorly known for their
orogenic belts of the northern continents, as crustal age also show significant juvenile crust of
highlighted in the reviews by Patchett and Arndt 1.9 – 1.7 Ga age, then this event must have been
(1986) and Condie (1990). Large volumes of new larger than presently documented in the northern
crust were added, at least to the studied regions, continents, and would represent a distinct, positive
during 1.9– 1.7 Ga. It appears that the 1.9 – 1.7 Ga spike in crustal growth. Such a situation might
crust of the northern continents is approximately correspond to crustal growth initiated by mantle
equal in mass to what could be produced by plume activity, as hypothesized by authors like
present-day island-arc generation rates over Boher et al. (1992) and Stein and Hofmann
200 Myr (Reymer and Schubert, 1984; Patchett (1994).
and Arndt, 1986). Patchett and Chase (2002)
modeled this in terms of accumulation of juvenile
terrains in restricted regions of the globe due to
transform motions associated with large-scale Juvenile Crust Production in the
plate tectonics. Canadian Cordillera
Since the late 1980s, two important changes The Canadian –Alaskan Cordillera (Figures 4
have occurred in the studies of the growth of and 5) has become the typical example of a
1.9– 1.7 Ga continental crust. The first is that Phanerozoic orogenic belt that contains significant
neodymium isotopic data have become a very amounts of juvenile crust. It is distinctive because
common component of any tectonic study of of all the global history of mountain-building
orogenic belts, granitoid complexes or sedimen- events from Cambrian to Cretaceous time, only
tary sequences, particularly in the Precambrian, three orogenic zones seem to display significant
meaning that neodymium isotopic data are now juvenile additions. Two of these are the South
routinely gathered as part of characterization of Island of New Zealand (e.g., Frost and Coombs,
regions not studied before. The second change is 1989), which is small in size, and the very
that the pace of data acquisition has slowed a little, large Altaid orogenic collage of central Asia
because regions that were well-characterized in (e.g., Sengör et al., 1993), for which isotopic
terms of geology and geochronology were studied data have only recently become available. The
in the 1980s, while fresh mapping and geochro- Canadian – Alaskan Cordillera has been studied
nology are needed to open up new areas for for radiogenic isotopes by several groups against a
credible neodymium isotopic study. Thus, more backdrop of rather well-constrained geology.
recent studies incorporating neodymium isotopes In the 1970s, the Canadian Cordillera became a
are not super-regional reconnaissance studies of center of tectonic attention because of the
regions for which geology and ages are already demonstration of the distinctness of the belts
known, but are targeted to newer topical problems of rocks from which it was constructed
and areas in Proterozoic geology, such as (Monger et al., 1972). This region became the
ophiolites in Quebec and Finland (Hegner and typical example for the concept of tectono-
Bevier, 1991; Peltonen et al., 1998), collisional stratigraphic terranes and their assembly by
tectonics (Öhlander et al., 1999), or granitoid accretion to form a mountain belt (Coney et al.,
petrogenesis (Valbracht et al., 1994; Krogstad and 1980). Subsequently, discussions were initiated
Walker, 1996; Rämö et al., 2001). about the apparent transpressional emplacement
In regions away from North America, Europe of many of the terranes, and northward transform
and Australia, the pace at which the volume both faulting of them after emplacement (Gabrielse,
of well-dated Precambrian terrain and of neody- 1985; Umhoefer, 1987). A recent geological
mium isotopic information increases is often review of Cordilleran geology and the develop-
much lower. This leaves large parts of the ment of ideas are found in Monger (1993).
continents poorly known for neodymium crustal In parallel with the geological investigations,
age. The very important conclusion, that the geochronology and strontium isotopic tracer
1.9– 1.7 Ga period saw a sequence of relatively investigations were carried out by Armstrong
rapid and high-volume additions to the continental and co-workers (Armstrong, 1988; Armstrong and
crust, is not likely to change. However, it is not Ward, 1993). Because initial 87Sr/86Sr ratios of
Neodymium Isotopes and Chemical Age of Crust 335

Figure 5 Terranes of the Canadian Cordillera. Older continental components are represented by the Miogeocline,
which rests on North American Precambrian basement, and the Yukon – Tanana terrane. Of the other terranes, those
near to the Miogeocline, such as Kootenay, have major older crustal components. Juvenile characteristics increase in
the direction of the Pacific Ocean (after Patchett et al., 1998; Butler et al., 2001).

plutonic rocks in the outboard parts of the Alexander terrane (Figure 5). In this outboard
Canadian Cordillera tended to be low, and because terrane, tightly folded Neoproterozoic and
geological associations suggested that a high Paleozoic felsic igneous assemblages form the
proportion of intra-oceanic rock assemblages had older components, and were some of the rocks
been accreted to North America, there was a referred to by Monger et al. (1972) as “continental.”
general supposition that juvenile crustal At the time when the first research proposal
elements from the paleo-Pacific basin would be was written, it seemed to the present first author
abundant in the Canadian Cordillera (Monger that these assemblages would yield neodymium
et al., 1972; Coney et al., 1980; Armstrong, 1988). isotopic data typical of older Precambrian con-
However, many of the terranes, even outboard tinental crust. The outcome was very different,
ones, contain Paleozoic rock assemblages that because all components of the Alexander terrane,
were viewed as “continental” (Monger et al., including the oldest ones, turned out to have
1972). positive initial 1Nd values (Samson et al., 1989).
It was against this background that the present This result became the keynote for much of
authors, in collaboration with George Gehrels, subsequent isotopic study by our group (Samson
initiated neodymium isotopic characterization of et al., 1990, 1991a,b). The isotopic work was
the Canadian Cordillera, beginning with the consistent with outboard terranes being generally
336 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
more juvenile, but in addition it was consistent The general picture of the Canadian – Alaskan
with ancient sedimentary assemblages having Cordillera is of a mountain belt characterized by
been incorporated into the Coast Plutonic accretion to older continental crust of juvenile
Complex (Samson et al., 1991a,b; Boghossian crustal elements from the ocean floor, or from
and Gehrels, 2000; Patchett et al., 1998). By no island-arc environments, whose proportion
means did these authors have a monopoly of increases towards the Pacific Ocean. Generally,
isotopic study in the Canadian – Alaskan work in the Canadian –Alaskan Cordillera has
Cordillera, and important data for outboard evolved in the same way as work on Proterozoic
terranes, the Coast Plutonic Complex (Figure 5) terrains described above. From initial reconnais-
and related areas were published by Arth et al. sance studies and large-scale views of how the
(1988), Farmer et al. (1993), Mezger et al. (2001), crust grew, research has evolved into more
Cui and Russell (1995), Friedman et al. (1995) detailed studies with more precise geological
and Mahoney et al. (1995). One important finding control. Nevertheless, some important general
of the last three cited papers is to show that the issues about crustal evolution come to fore by
southern part of the Coast Plutonic Complex does thinking about the Cordillera at the largest scale.
not contain the older crustal elements seen further Samson and Patchett (1991) reviewed the then-
north around the Alaska Panhandle. existing neodymium isotopic database, and con-
Further inboard lies a zone of the Canadian cluded that ,50% by mass of the Canadian
Cordillera that incorporates terranes showing segment of the Cordillera was juvenile crustal
well-known oceanic features, like Cache Creek material. Clearly, such estimates are dependent on
and Slide Mountain, arc assemblages like Ques- assumptions about whether terranes continue to
nel, and also large amounts of clastic sedimentary lower crustal depth. Seismic data often reveal that
rocks, along with the Yukon– Tanana terrane of juvenile belts are underlain by older continental
more continental affinity in the northern part of the material, both in Proterozoic and Phanerozoic
Cordillera (Figure 5). This zone is characterized contexts (Lucas et al., 1993; Clowes et al., 1999).
by juvenile neodymium signatures in most of its The 50%-juvenile estimate of Samson and
volcanic rocks and mafic intrusives (Smith Patchett (1991) should certainly be revised down-
and Lambert, 1995; Smith et al., 1995; Piercey wards in light of seismic results summarized by
et al., 2002). Neodymium isotopic signatures Clowes et al. (1999), as well as more recent field
showing a mixture of juvenile and Precambrian and isotopic work such as that of Erdmer et al.
continental North American materials are shown (2002). Qualitatively however, the status of the
by both clastic sedimentary assemblages (Creaser Canadian Cordillera as the locus of juvenile
et al., 1997; Patchett and Gehrels, 1998; crustal growth remains in spite of these
Unterschutz et al., 2002; Erdmer et al., 2002), uncertainties.
and granitoid plutons (Ghosh, 1995; Ghosh and Samson and Patchett (1991) also viewed the
Lambert, 1995; Piercey et al., 2003). Canadian Cordillera as an analogue for Proter-
Still further inboard towards North America lies ozoic crustal growth by accretion of juvenile
the Omineca Crystalline Belt (Monger et al., terranes, a comparison that was explicitly exam-
1982) and the Miogeocline, where pre-Cordilleran ined in terms of major- and trace-element
Neoproterozoic through Late Jurassic sedimentary compositions by Condie and Chomiak (1996).
rocks rest on North America basement. The The present authors, like many others, have
Omineca crystalline belt is not separately distin- always been impressed by the transform faulting
guished on Figure 5, because it is a metamorphic/ that is presently active along the North American
plutonic overprint rather than a separate terrane, margin, which serves to pile juvenile crust into
but it occupies the general area of the Quesnel and one region that stretches from southern British
Kootenay terranes. Although juvenile neodymium Columbia to Alaska. Subsequent synthesis of
is sometimes seen, the Omineca belt generally Cordilleran geology (Johnston, 2001) and discus-
shows neodymium isotopic signatures, in both sions about crustal growth in general (Patchett and
metasedimentary and plutonic rocks, that corre- Chase, 2002) have emphasized the northward
spond to older North American continent along-margin transport displayed in the Canadian
(Burwash et al., 1988; Ghosh and Lambert, Cordillera as a critical element in crustal growth
1989; Stevens et al., 1996; Brandon and Lambert, models. The rationale for this is that along-margin
1993, 1994; Brandon and Smith, 1994; Driver transport of slices of juvenile crustal material is
et al., 2000). The miogeoclinal sequence appears able to pile them all up in one segment of the
to have been derived from Precambrian basement continental margin, perhaps even into a restricted
before ,450 Ma, but after this time to have region of the globe, creating the impression of a
been supplied by distant mountains of early- to very intense and localized crustal growth period
mid-Paleozoic age in the Canadian Arctic (Patchett and Chase, 2002), for which extraordi-
(Boghossian et al., 1996; Garzione et al., 1997; nary mechanisms might otherwise be required
Patchett et al., 1999). (e.g., Stein and Hofmann, 1994). This process
Isotopes and Pre-3 GA Continental Crust 337
should have been important in most of geologic the abundant granitoid plutons in the Chinese part
time, accounting for numerous apparently very of the Altaid assemblage. Yarmolyuk et al. (1999)
intense crustal growth episodes (Patchett and and Hu et al. (2000) used neodymium isotopic
Chase, 2002). results to study the nature of pre-Altaid basement.
Modern U – Pb zircon geochronology, which
together with detailed modern documentation of Juvenile Crust Production in the Altaid tectonic relations in the field, has also been largely
Collage of Central Asia lacking in the Altaid crustal collage, is being
Another region of Phanerozoic crustal growth is actively undertaken (Wilde et al., 2000; Salnikova
the Altaid orogenic collage of central Asia, et al., 2001; Windley et al., 2002). All authors
located in the eastern parts of the former Soviet concluded that substantial juvenile material was
Union, and in western China (Figure 4). The rocks added to Asia during Altaid events, particularly
range in age dominantly from Neoproterozoic during Early Ordovician through Devonian time.
through Early Carboniferous, with final tectonic Post-orogenic granitoids of Late Carboniferous to
movements and post-orogenic igneous activity Early Permian age have sources that may appear
extending through part of Permian time. Thus, juvenile, or to consist of older continental crust,
the crustal assemblage is older than the bulk of depending on the location with respect to the
the material in the Canadian Cordillera. In a margins of the Altaid collage (Han et al., 1997;
simplified view, one might say that the Altaid Litvinovsky et al., 2002).
system represents the bulk of global juvenile What appears to emerge from the ongoing
crustal accretion of Cambrian through Permian studies is that the Altaid collage consists of
time, while the Canadian Cordillera and terranes of juvenile material juxtaposed with
New Zealand have that role from Triassic through terranes containing pre-existing Proterozoic crus-
Cretaceous time. tal rocks over the whole extent of the belt. Sengör
Early work on the tectonic assembly of Asia, et al. (1993) painted just such a picture, and also
which was published in international journals, suggested that up to 50% of the entire Altaid
took place in the 1980s and early 1990s (e.g., collage may represent juvenile crust of Paleozoic
Sengör and Hsü, 1984; Windley et al., 1990; Allen age. So far, the neodymium isotopic data appear to
et al., 1992). However, the Altaid system came to support juvenile crust of about this magnitude, but
the attention of the wider scientific community much field data, geochronology and neodymium
through the bold syntheses of Sengör and co- isotopic data remain to be gathered. In addition,
workers (Sengör et al., 1993; Sengör and Natalin, estimates for the volume of juvenile crustal
1996a,b). These authors described a collage of material may need revision when better data are
belts of arc volcanic rocks, ophiolitic assem- available for whether and how the juvenile
blages, greywacke-shale sequences and grani- terranes project into the lower continental crust,
toids, that occupies a very large area in central as noted above in the context of the Canadian
Asia to the north of the Himalayan system, and Cordillera. Estimates of the proportion of juvenile
lying between the Baltic Shield/Russian Platform crustal growth represented by the Altaid collage
to the west, the Siberian Shield to the east, and can be expected to be refined in the future.
with the North China Craton providing a partial
boundary to the south. Tectonic trends are highly
variable, and this seems consistent with the
interpretations of Sengör and co-workers, that 3.10.6 ISOTOPES AND PRE-3 Ga
the collage represents the sweepings of a large CONTINENTAL CRUST
ocean, with telescoping of accreted fragments not Existence of Ancient Continental Crust
only by orthogonal collision, but with transpres-
sion and transform faulting, essentially along the Isotope geology acquires a dominant signifi-
strike of the developing orogen, over very large cance when continental rocks dating from before
geographic scales. This resulted in a collage with 3 Ga are studied. This is because fossils are not
variable tectonic trends occupying a large region available, and metamorphism and tectonism are
of roughly triangular shape in the center of the often so severe that original layering of supra-
Asian continent. crustal sequences may not be visible, and even
Isotopic analyses of Altaid-collage rocks are magmatic contact relationships may be obscured.
not as abundant as those in the Canadian Gneisses of 3.8 Ga, 2.8 Ga, and 1.8 Ga may look
Cordillera, but have appeared in increasing very similar in the field, and isotopic dating is
numbers since about 1996. Kovalenko et al. absolutely required to distinguish them. In
(1999, 2003) presented neodymium isotopic data addition, pre-3 Ga rocks may carry unique infor-
on juvenile Altaid rocks in Russia and Mongolia, mation about environments on the early Earth, or
while Wu et al. (2000), Jahn et al. (2000) and about mantle differentiation and layering, and the
Chen and Jahn (2002) made extensive studies of search for the oldest continental crust has always
338 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
been a major area of activity. All the areas of pre- Models based on neodymium and strontium
3 Ga crust discussed here are indicated on isotopes that grew the continents through time
Figure 4. were made possible by the arrival of the
Early dates for ancient crust were obtained by meteoritically constrained Sm – Nd system
the Rb – Sr whole-rock isochron method, or by the (O’Nions et al., 1979; Jacobsen and Wasserburg,
U – Pb zircon method when it was in its infancy. 1979; DePaolo, 1979). A very readable account of
Approximately 3.5 Ga U –Pb zircon ages were the chemical relationships between crust and
obtained from gneisses in Minnesota by Goldich mantle is by Hofmann (1988), while one of the
et al. (1970), and gneisses in western Greenland more mathematically complete treatments is by
were dated at 3.6 –3.8 Ga by Rb – Sr isochrons Allègre et al. (1983a,b). Although a neodymium-
(Black et al., 1971; Moorbath et al., 1972). These based cumulative age curve for global continental
age determinations were the major scientific news crust cannot yet be drawn, the estimates for North
of their day in geology, and began a whole field of America and Europe (Patchett and Arndt, 1986;
endeavor in deciphering the history of ancient Condie, 1990) may approximate the global
crustal rocks. Early foci of research on ancient picture.
crust were western Greenland (Moorbath, 1978), Alternatively, the modeling by Armstrong
Labrador (Hurst et al., 1975; Bridgwater and (1968, 1981) and Zartman and Doe (1981),
Collerson, 1976) and Swaziland (Davies and initially strongly based on lead isotopes, advo-
Allsopp, 1976). Early studies of these regions cated the position that during crustal growth
using Sm – Nd were by Hamilton et al. (1983) and events or during plate movement in general,
Carlson et al. (1983), and these and other isotopic continent could also be destroyed by the subduc-
studies documented the juvenile nature of the tion of sedimentary rocks resting on the ocean
these earliest crustal gneiss complexes. floor. It was realized by the community that all
Presently, most occurrences of pre-3 Ga rocks crust and mantle geochemistry and isotopes were
have been accurately dated using modern consistent with large amounts of crustal recycling,
approaches of the U – Pb zircon method (e.g., provided that more or less complete mixing
Kröner et al., 1989; Bowring et al., 1989b; occurred during mantle convection. Much of the
Horstwood et al., 1999), and neodymium isotope discussion concerns the present-day Earth. How-
data have been widely obtained (e.g., Collerson ever, the period before 3 Ga is critical to the
et al., 1991). Hafnium isotopic data, combined discussion of crustal recycling because it is
with neodymium, have been obtained for critical generally agreed that large amounts (perhaps
samples (Vervoort et al., 1996; Vervoort and 40 – 50%) of presently surviving crust came into
Blichert-Toft, 1999; Blichert-Toft et al., 1999; existence during the immediately following
Amelin et al., 1999). The focus of neodymium and period, between 3.0 Ga and 2.6 Ga (e.g., Condie,
hafnium isotopic studies has moved away from 1990). Either the pre-3 Ga Earth had much less
documentation of juvenile character towards an felsic crust than existed after 2.6 Ga, or large
attempt to constrain the degree of heterogeneity in amounts of pre-3 Ga crust were destroyed before
the early Earth’s mantle, with a view to detecting or during the time that the 3.0 –2.7 Ga crust was
“primordial” rock reservoirs and effects of the produced. If it could be shown that massive
primary differentiation of the Earth (e.g., Bowring amounts of pre-3 Ga crust were destroyed, then
and Housh, 1995; Albarède et al., 2000; see essentially all objections to large-scale continent
Chapter 2.13). Many arguments have developed recycling in the mantle would disappear.
concerning the reliability of isotopic values for Attempts to test the effects of sediment
single samples of polymetamorphic gneisses (e.g., subduction (Patchett et al., 1984), or whether
Vervoort et al., 1996; Gruau et al., 1996; pre-3 Ga crust was available to be recycled into
Moorbath et al., 1997). The case of the Acasta later crust (Stevenson and Patchett, 1990), founder
gneisses, to which the above-cited references on two possibilities. One is that in the early Earth,
apply, is detailed later in this chapter. aided by a hotter mantle and continuing bombard-
ment from asteroidal objects, it may have been
possible to destroy continental fragments whole-
sale, so that little trace of them remained at the Crustal Growth Events and Recycling surface. Another is that large amounts of sediment
into the Mantle subduction would result in a very well averaged
geochemical signature entering the mantle, so that
Early in the evolution of isotopic studies of distinctive features of oceanic sediments, such as
ancient crust, Moorbath (1975, 1978) developed enrichment or depletion in zircon and its unradio-
the concepts of (i) major Precambrian crustal genic hafnium, could not be used to argue
growth events in which juvenile crust was made, against the process (Plank and Langmuir, 1998).
and (ii) the essential indestructibility of continen- At the same time, budgets for the mass of rock
tal crust once consolidated by orogenic events. entering subduction zones appear to suggest that
Isotopes and Pre-3 GA Continental Crust 339
sedimentary material has to disappear into the (Bowring et al., 1990). The corresponding
mantle (von Huene and Scholl, 1993), an argu- TCHUR ages of these three samples are 4.1 Ga,
ment used forcefully by Armstrong (1981). 3.92 Ga, and 3.85 Ga, respectively.
Consequently, a discussion that was once framed The variable 1Nd values of the Acasta samples
in terms of “growth or no growth” (e.g., Stevenson were interpreted by Bowring et al. (1990) as
and Patchett, 1990; Armstrong, 1991; McCulloch reflecting original protolith heterogeneity, rather
and Bennett, 1994) may now focus on how much than the effects of metamorphic disturbance. The
continent recycling occurs, and the magnitude of negative 1Nd value and TCHUR age of 4.1 Ga of the
recycling compared to the growth seen in places tonalitic gneiss was interpreted as evidence that at
like the Canadian Cordillera. The magnitudes of least this portion of the Acasta Gneiss Complex
these fluxes are very important for crust –mantle must have been derived from, or interacted
evolution, but are quite difficult to determine extensively with, a crustal reservoir considerably
accurately, because of the global basis required, older than 3.96 Ga. The same argument cannot be
and the deep parts of subduction zones being easily made for the granite orthogneiss, however,
difficult to image precisely (Reymer and as it has a TCHUR age that is 100 Myr younger than
Schubert, 1984; von Huene and Scholl, 1993; its crystallization age.
see Chapter 2.11). Lead isotopic ratios were determined for
HF-leaches of alkali feldspars from the granitic
gneiss and of plagioclase from the tonalitic Acasta Gneisses, Northwest Territories, gneiss (Bowring et al., 1990). The 206Pb:207Pb:
Canada 208Pb:204Pb ratios of the least radiogenic leaches,

The Slave craton in northwestern Canada is an presumed to be closest to the initial lead isotopic
Archean granite – greenstone terrain that is composition of the rocks, were 14.12, 15.08, 34.01
bounded on the east and west by Paleoproterozoic and 14.96, 15.29, 33.53, respectively. The
orogenic belts (see geological reviews of Pb/204Pb and 207Pb/204Pb ratios of the three
Henderson (1985) and Padgham (1985)). Crustal plagioclase leaches lie on a linear array with a
regions within the western portion of Slave craton slope equivalent to an age of 3.60 ^ 0.28 Ga.
contain granitoids older than 2.8 Ga (see Bowring Because this age overlaps the 3.62 Ga of the
et al., 1990, and references therein). The antiquity unzoned zircon rims from the tonalitic gneiss, the
(.3.5 Ga) of the westernmost portion of the Slave feldspar lead isotopic composition was interpreted
craton has been known since the mid-1980s as reflecting homogenization of whole-rock lead
(Bowring and Van Schmus, 1984), but in 1989 it isotopes during a 3.6 Ga metamorphic event.
was demonstrated, via ion microprobe U – Pb The high 207Pb/204Pb ratios of the leached
dating, that zircons within a tonalitic gneiss feldspars were taken as evidence that the gneisses
(sample BGXM) from the Acasta River area were were derived from a reservoir characterized by a
as old as 3.96 Ga (Bowring et al., 1989a), making high U/Pb ratio prior to 3.96 Ga, such as
the gneiss the oldest known terrestrial rock. An significantly older continental crust that had not
identical age was determined for a second gneiss lost uranium or thorium (Bowring et al., 1990).
(sample SP-405) with a granitic composition Implicit in this argument is that the lead isotopic
(Bowring et al., 1990). Stern and Bleeker (1998) compositions of the HF-leached feldspars accu-
reported 207Pb – 206Pb dates as old as 4.02 Ga from rately represent the lead isotopic composition of
a gneiss collected from within the same outcrop as the protoliths to the gneisses, and hence accurately
that sampled by Bowring et al. (1989a). More reflect the source materials of the protolith.
recent U – Pb geochronological work on the Hafnium and U –Pb isotopic ratios were deter-
gneisses in the Acasta River area (now called the mined for single zircons from two gneisses
Acasta Gneiss Complex) has extended the known reported to be Acasta gneisses (Amelin et al.,
extent of the oldest known surviving continental 1999). However, no details of the sampling
crustal region, as zircons from two metatonalites location or composition of the gneisses were
and a metagranodiorite have nearly concordant given, except that they were from “granitic” and
U – Pb dates of 4,002 ^ 4 Ma, 4,012 ^ 6 Ma, “amphibolitic” gneisses. Two zircons from the
and 4,031 ^ 3 Ma, respectively (Bowring and amphibolitic unit have 1Hf(t) values of 24.7 and
Williams, 1999). 20.6, and the zircon from the granitic unit has a
The neodymium isotopic composition of Acasta reported 1Hf(t) value of 21.8. However, the
gneiss BGXM was investigated by Bowring et al. significance of these data to the 4.0 Ga Acasta
(1989b). These authors reported a value of gneisses are uncertain, as the zircons analyzed by
1Nd(3.96 Ga) ¼ 21.7 for a whole-rock analysis Amelin et al. (1999) yielded 207Pb/206Pb dates of
and 1Nd(3.96 Ga) ¼ þ 0.7 for an amphibolitic-rich 3,548 Ma to 3,565 Ma, similar to the 3.6 Ga dates
layer taken from a hand specimen of BGXM. An determined for some structureless equant zircons
indistinguishable value, 1Nd(3.96 Ga) ¼ þ 0.8, and the unzoned outer portion of some of the 4.0 Ga
was reported for the granitic gneiss SP-405 crystals analyzed by Bowring et al. (1989a, 1990),
340 Ages and Growth of the Continental Crust from Radiogenic Isotopes
which they interpreted as dating the timing of a zircons from Jack Hills, Mojzsis et al. (2001)
second generation of zircon growth. Because of confirmed the existence of 4.28 Ga zircons by
the extreme complexity in the zoning of zircons identifying two grains giving concordant U –Pb
from the Acasta gneisses, hafnium isotopic dates of 4,279 ^ 5 Ma and 4,280 ^ 5 Ma. An
compositions of whole zircon crystals might even older detrital zircon, 4,404 ^ 8 Ma, has been
reflect only a weighted average of different discovered from the Jack Hills conglomerate
isotopic compositions. (Wilde et al., 2001), making this crystal only
All in all, the complexity of the isotopic data ,150 Myr younger than the estimated time of
and their interpretation in the Acasta Gneiss Earth formation.
Complex illustrate the difficulties inherent in In addition to geochronological studies of the
study of planetary evolution using polymeta- Earth’s oldest zircons, geochemical and isotopic
morphic gneisses. This is the ultimate cause for studies have also been performed (Kinny et al.,
the controversies over relaibility of radiogenic 1991; Maas et al., 1992; Amelin et al., 1999;
isotopic parameters derived from these rocks Mojzsis et al., 2001; Peck et al., 2001; Wilde et al.,
(e.g., Vervoort et al., 1996; Gruau et al., 1996; 2001). Maas et al. (1992) demonstrated that both
Moorbath et al., 1997). the older and younger detrital zircon suites from
the Jack Hills conglomerate have trace-element
compositions and mineral inclusions consistent Narryer Terrane, Western Australia with nucleation from a felsic magma. Kinny et al.
The oldest known portion of the Archean (1991) were the first to attempt to determine the
Yilgarn craton is the Narryer terrane, occurring hafnium isotopic composition of the zircons, but
in the northwestern part of the craton. The Narryer the large uncertainties in the ion microprobe
terrane contains 3.7 Ga gneisses, 3.7 Ga anortho- measurements (^ (5 –7) 1Hf units) precluded a
sitic rocks, and 3.6 Ga granites (see Myers, 1995, detailed discussion of the petrogenesis of the
and references therein). Two important belts of parent magmas. In more recent work, Amelin et al.
metasedimentary rocks, thought to have been (1999) measured 37 Jack Hills detrital zircons for
deposited ,3 Ga, occur within the Narryer terrane: U – Pb ages and hafnium isotopes. The advantage
the Narryer and Jack Hills belts. The metasedi- of measuring U –Pb and hafnium isotopes from
mentary rocks within the Narryer belt include the same dissolved zircon crystal is that the degree
metaconglomerates and quartzites that have of discordance can be determined, which in turn is
preserved cross-bedding despite being metamor- important in assessing the likelihood of the
phosed at upper amphibolite to granulite facies presence of a xenocrystic core and/or meta-
conditions (Froude et al., 1983). Detrital zircons morphic rims on the zircon. Zircons that are either
extracted from one of these quartzites were the first concordant or not too discordant are the least
pre – 4.0 Ga terrestrial minerals identified (Froude likely crystals to contain multiple domains.
et al., 1983). In the original study, four zircons out Similarly, zircons that have suffered the least
of 102 crystals analyzed from one quartzite sample lead loss are the least likely to have experienced
yielded 207Pb-206Pb dates of 4.11 – 4.18 Ga. The open system behavior for lutetium or hafnium
other detrital zircons from that sample and a (see Samson et al., 2003 for discussion). Of the 10
second quartzite yielded 207Pb – 206Pb dates zircons identified by Amelin et al. (1999) that are
between 3.75– 3.3 Ga, with two zircons having .3.8 Ga, two have 1Hf(t) values that are further
nearly concordant 3.1 Ga dates. than ^1 1Hf units from CHUR. The bulk of these
The Jack Hills belt, broadly similar to the ancient zircons are thus consistent with derivation
Narryer belt but metamorphosed to upper greens- from a chondritic-like source, which at this age
chist facies, contains metabasalts, chert, and could include very slightly to nondepleted mantle,
banded iron formation interleaved with clastic or juvenile crust that had recently been extracted
metasedimentary rocks (Compston and Pidgeon, from such a mantle. Two crystals, with
1986). Detrital zircons from a ,3.1 Ga chert Pb – 206Pb dates of 3.82 Ga and 3.97 Ga, have
pebble conglomerate were analyzed using ion 1Hf(t) values of 22.2 ^ 0.6 and 22.7 ^ 0.4,
microprobe U – Pb techniques as part of a respectively. These values are far enough below
continuing search for ancient zircons. Compston the CHUR line to suggest that these zircons
and Pidgeon (1986) found detrital zircons with crystallized from slightly evolved magmas,
207Pb – 206Pb dates ranging between 4.28 – 4.0 Ga, assuming that the zircons contain only single-
significantly extending the sampling region of the age domains and that the ages and isotopic
oldest known minerals. Supporting geochronolo- compositions are accurate. If those assumptions
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