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Argon isotopic composition of Archaean atmosphere probes early Earth geodynamics

Abstract

Understanding the growth rate of the continental crust through time is a fundamental issue in Earth sciences1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. The isotopic signatures of noble gases in the silicate Earth (mantle, crust) and in the atmosphere afford exceptional insight into the evolution through time of these geochemical reservoirs9. However, no data for the compositions of these reservoirs exists for the distant past, and temporal exchange rates between Earth’s interior and its surface are severely under-constrained owing to a lack of samples preserving the original signature of the atmosphere at the time of their formation. Here, we report the analysis of argon in Archaean (3.5-billion-year-old) hydrothermal quartz. Noble gases are hosted in primary fluid inclusions containing a mixture of Archaean freshwater and hydrothermal fluid. Our analysis reveals Archaean atmospheric argon with a 40Ar/36Ar value of 143 ± 24, lower than the present-day value of 298.6 (for which 40Ar has been produced by the radioactive decay of the potassium isotope 40K, with a half-life of 1.25 billion years; 36Ar is primordial in origin). This ratio is consistent with an early development of the felsic crust, which might have had an important role in climate variability during the first half of Earth’s history.

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Figure 1: 40Ar/36Ar versus Cl/36Ar for step-heating and step-crushing data of the irradiated sample.
Figure 2: Evolution of the atmospheric 40Ar/36Ar ratio and of the volume of continental crust relative to its present-day volume, as a function of time.

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. Blagburn and L. Zimmermann for their technical support with the irradiated samples measurements, and M. Derrien and B. Faure for their help with the conception of the degassing model. This project was funded by the CNRS, the Région Lorraine, the ANR (Agence Nationale pour la Recherche) projects “e-Life” and “e-Life2” to P.P. and by the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007–2013 grant agreement number 267255 to B.M. The drilling programme was supported by funds from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) and the CNRS, and by the Geological Survey of Western Australia (GSWA). This is Centre de Recherches Géochimiques et Pétrographiques (CRPG) contribution number 2239.

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Contributions

M.P. and R.B. performed the experiments and analysed the data. P.P. provided the sample and characterized the fluid inclusions. M.P. and B.M. did the calculations and the modelling, and wrote the paper. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bernard Marty.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Pujol, M., Marty, B., Burgess, R. et al. Argon isotopic composition of Archaean atmosphere probes early Earth geodynamics. Nature 498, 87–90 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12152

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