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Continental crust formation on early Earth controlled by intrusive magmatism


The global geodynamic regime of early Earth, which operated before the onset of plate tectonics, remains contentious. As geological and geochemical data suggest hotter Archean mantle temperature1,2 and more intense juvenile magmatism than in the present-day Earth3,4, two crust–mantle interaction modes differing in melt eruption efficiency have been proposed: the Io-like heat-pipe tectonics regime dominated by volcanism5,6 and the “Plutonic squishy lid” tectonics regime governed by intrusive magmatism, which is thought to apply to the dynamics of Venus7,8,9. Both tectonics regimes are capable of producing primordial tonalite–trondhjemite–granodiorite (TTG) continental crust5,10 but lithospheric geotherms and crust production rates as well as proportions of various TTG compositions differ greatly9,10, which implies that the heat-pipe and Plutonic squishy lid hypotheses can be tested using natural data11. Here we investigate the creation of primordial TTG-like continental crust using self-consistent numerical models of global thermochemical convection associated with magmatic processes. We show that the volcanism-dominated heat-pipe tectonics model results in cold crustal geotherms and is not able to produce Earth-like primordial continental crust. In contrast, the Plutonic squishy lid tectonics regime dominated by intrusive magmatism results in hotter crustal geotherms and is capable of reproducing the observed proportions of various TTG rocks. Using a systematic parameter study, we show that the typical modern eruption efficiency of less than 40 per cent12 leads to the production of the expected amounts of the three main primordial crustal compositions previously reported from field data4,11 (low-, medium- and high-pressure TTG). Our study thus suggests that the pre-plate-tectonics Archean Earth operated globally in the Plutonic squishy lid regime rather than in an Io-like heat-pipe regime.

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Figure 1: The impact of the emplacement mechanism on the geotherm.
Figure 2: Time evolution of the reference model.
Figure 3: Amount of all TTG types produced in our models.


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We thank K. Condie, L. Moresi and M. Van Kranendonk for comments and suggestions as part of the review process. A.B.R. and C.J. received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/20072013)/ERC Grant Agreement number 320639 project iGEO. T.G. received support from the SNF projects Swiss-AlpArray and number 200020_166063.

Author information




A.B.R., G.J.G., C.J. and T.G. designed the set of numerical simulations. P.J.T. implemented the eruption–intrusion routines in the convection code. A.B.R. wrote all postprocessing routines and produced the figures. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. B. Rozel.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Reviewer Information Nature thanks K. Condie, L. Moresi and M. Van Kranendonk for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Comparison of field data (and their geodynamic interpretation) and the tectonic regimes self-consistently obtained in our simulations (see Methods).

Numerical models always show some intense deformation during the first hundreds of millions of years and then reach a stagnant phase. Massive resurfacing events (purple areas) are sometimes observed after a long stability period, consistent with field data36,63 interpretations. Ga, billions of years ago.

Extended Data Table 1 Required P (GPa) and T (°C) conditions for TTG formation
Extended Data Table 2 Final global volumes (in cubic kilometres, after a billion years) for all simulations
Extended Data Table 3 Rheological properties in the viscous regime
Extended Data Table 4 Phase-change parameters for olivine and pyroxene-garnet phase systems

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Rozel, A., Golabek, G., Jain, C. et al. Continental crust formation on early Earth controlled by intrusive magmatism. Nature 545, 332–335 (2017).

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