Recycling lower continental crust in the North China craton

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Foundering of mafic lower continental crust into underlying convecting mantle has been proposed as one means to explain the unusually evolved chemical composition of Earth's continental crust1,2, yet direct evidence of this process has been scarce. Here we report that Late Jurassic high-magnesium andesites, dacites and adakites (siliceous lavas with high strontium and low heavy-rare-earth element and yttrium contents) from the North China craton have chemical and petrographic features consistent with their origin as partial melts of eclogite that subsequently interacted with mantle peridotite. Similar features observed in adakites and some Archaean sodium-rich granitoids of the tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite series have been interpreted to result from interaction of slab melts with the mantle wedge. Unlike their arc-related counterparts, however, the Chinese magmas carry inherited Archaean zircons and have neodymium and strontium isotopic compositions overlapping those of eclogite xenoliths derived from the lower crust of the North China craton. Such features cannot be produced by crustal assimilation of slab melts, given the high Mg#, nickel and chromium contents of the lavas. We infer that the Chinese lavas derive from ancient mafic lower crust that foundered into the convecting mantle and subsequently melted and interacted with peridotite. We suggest that lower crustal foundering occurred within the North China craton during the Late Jurassic, and thus provides constraints on the timing of lithosphere removal beneath the North China craton.

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Figure 1: Geologic map of Western Liaoning Province, China.
Figure 2: Zircon ages of the Xinglonggou lavas compared to those of the North China Archaean and Palaeoproterozoic basement.
Figure 3: Compositional variations in an euhedral orthopyroxene phenocryst along the [001] crystallographic plane from Xinglonggou high-Mg adakite XL03.
Figure 4: Sr–Nd isotopic compositions of the Xinglonggou lavas (this work, calculated at 160 Myr, the time of volcanic eruption) and inferred modern slab melts (open circles; small open circles indicate associated basalts).


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This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the Beijing SHRIMP Center (S.G. and H.L.Y.) and the NSF (R.L.R. and J.C.A). We thank D. Y. Liu, Z. C. Hu, G. M. Shu and Y. B. Wang for help in SHRIMP II and electron microprobe analyses, and D. Günther for help in setting up the LA-ICP-MS. This Letter benefited from comments and suggestions from S. Wilde and H. Rollinson.

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Correspondence to Shan Gao or Roberta L. Rudnick.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures 1, 2, 3

These three figures show cathodoluminescence (CL) images and ages of the selected zircons analyzed by SHRIMP II for Xinglonggou lavas XL31, XL34 and XL03, respectively. Includes accompanying text. (PDF 2020 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

This table gives zircon U-Pb age data for five Xinglonggou lavas obtained by SHRIMP II and LA-ICP-MS. (XLS 830 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

This table gives LA-ICP-MS elemental analytical data for one large inherited zircon grain from XL18 (Fig. 2b). (XLS 21 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

This table gives LA-ICP-MS elemental analytical data for one large inherited zircon grain from XL18 (Fig. 2b). (XLS 21 kb)

Supplementary Table 4

This table gives average chemical compositions of minerals of Xinglonggou lavas obtained by electron microprobe. (XLS 26 kb)

Supplementary Table 5

This table gives geochemical and isotopic compositions of 31 Xinglonggou lavas. (XLS 58 kb)

Supplementary Table 6

This table gives SHRIMP U-Pb age data for few available zircons from Xu-Huai eclogite (sample 603-2-2) and garnet clinopyroxenite (sample 603-2-1) xenoliths. (XLS 23 kb)

Supplementary Data

This gives data sources for zircon 207Pb/206Pb ages of Archaean and Paleoproterozoic rocks from the North China Craton used for Fig. 2c. (DOC 52 kb)

Supplementary Discussion

This gives a detailed explanation, data sources and modelling parameters of Figure 4. (DOC 46 kb)

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Gao, S., Rudnick, R., Yuan, H. et al. Recycling lower continental crust in the North China craton. Nature 432, 892–897 (2004) doi:10.1038/nature03162

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