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Low heat flow inferred from >4 Gyr zircons suggests Hadean plate boundary interactions


The first 600 million years of Earth history (the ‘Hadean’ eon) remain poorly understood, largely because there is no rock record dating from that era. Detrital Hadean igneous zircons from the Jack Hills1, Western Australia, however, can potentially provide insights into the conditions extant on our planet at that time. Results of geochemical investigations2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 using these ancient grains have been interpreted to suggest the presence of a hydrosphere2,3,4,7,8 and continental crust9,10 before 4 Gyr. An underexploited characteristic of the >4 Gyr zircons is their diverse assemblage of mineral inclusions14,15,16,17. Here we present an examination of over 400 Hadean zircons from Jack Hills, which shows that some inclusion assemblages are conducive to thermobarometry. Our thermobarometric analyses of 4.02–4.19-Gyr-old inclusion-bearing zircons constrain their magmatic formation conditions to about 700 °C and 7 kbar. This result implies a near-surface heat flow of 75 mW m-2, about three to five times lower than estimates of Hadean global heat flow. As the only site of magmatism on modern Earth that is characterized by heat flow of about one-quarter of the global average is above subduction zones, we suggest that the magmas from which the Jack Hills Hadean zircons crystallized were formed largely in an underthrust environment, perhaps similar to modern convergent margins.

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Figure 1: Cathodoluminescence and secondary electron micrographs of inclusion-bearing Jack Hills zircons.
Figure 2: Pressure–temperature pseudo-section for model S-type granite.
Figure 3: Pressure–temperature diagram.

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This work was supported by NSF grant EAR-0635969 and ARC grant DP0666497. We acknowledge facility support from the Instrumentation and Facilities Program of the National Science Foundation. We thank R. Powell for advice on using THERMOCALC, F. Kyte for assistance with the EMPA analyses, A. Schmitt and P. Holden for assistance with the ion microprobe analyses, and W. Schopf and A. Kudryavtsev for confocal Raman imaging.

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Correspondence to T. Mark Harrison.

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Hopkins, M., Harrison, T. & Manning, C. Low heat flow inferred from >4 Gyr zircons suggests Hadean plate boundary interactions. Nature 456, 493–496 (2008).

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