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No evidence for Hadean continental crust within Earth’s oldest evolved rock unit

Abstract

Due to the acute scarcity of very ancient rocks, the composition of Earth’s embryonic crust during the Hadean eon (>4.0 billion years ago) is a critical unknown in our search to understand how the earliest continents evolved. Whether the Hadean Earth was dominated by mafic-composition crust, similar to today’s oceanic crust1,2,3,4, or included significant amounts of continental crust5,6,7,8 remains an unsolved question that carries major implications for the earliest atmosphere, the origin of life, and the geochemical evolution of the crust–mantle system. Here we present new U–Pb and Hf isotope data on zircons from the only precisely dated Hadean rock unit on Earth—a 4,019.6 ± 1.8 Myr tonalitic gneiss unit in the Acasta Gneiss Complex, Canada. Combined zircon and whole-rock geochemical data from this ancient unit shows no indication of derivation from, or interaction with, older Hadean continental crust. Instead, the data provide the first direct evidence that the oldest known evolved crust on Earth was generated from an older ultramafic or mafic reservoir that probably surfaced the early Earth.

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Figure 1: Concordia plot of high-precision U–Pb data from the TC3 zircons.
Figure 2: Hafnium isotope analysis from 4,020 Myr zircon grains from Idiwhaa tonalitic gneiss sample TC3.
Figure 3: Modelling results show lack of evidence for Hadean TTG-like crust during formation of the Idiwhaa unit.

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Acknowledgements

J. Ketchum and the Northwest Territories Geological Survey staff are thanked for scientific and field support, without which this project would not have been possible; E. Thiessen and R. Reimink are thanked for mapping and field assistance. F.X. D’Abzac is thanked for assistance with solution Hf isotope analyses at the University of Geneva and Y. Luo is thanked for assistance with LA-ICPMS split stream Hf-U-Pb analyses. A. Oh and K. Nichols are thanked for laboratory support during ion probe analyses. A review from J. O’Neil vastly improved this work. This research was funded by National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants to T.C. and L.M.H., as well as Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program funding to D.G.P., support from the University of Geneva and the Swiss National Science Foundation to J.H.F.L.D. and U.S., and a Circumpolar/Boreal Alberta Research grant for fieldwork to J.R.R.

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J.R.R., T.C. and J.H.F.L.D. conducted mapping and sample collection. J.R.R. carried out sample crushing, processing and zircon separations. J.H.F.L.D. and J.R.R. carried out collection of bulk zircon Hf and U–Th–Pb isotopic data. C.S., J.R.R. and D.G.P. collected zircon laser-ablation Hf and U–Pb data. R.A.C. collected whole-rock Nd isotope data. Modelling was conducted by J.R.R. and T.C. All authors contributed to discussion of the results and their implications, as well as preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to J. R. Reimink.

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Reimink, J., Davies, J., Chacko, T. et al. No evidence for Hadean continental crust within Earth’s oldest evolved rock unit. Nature Geosci 9, 777–780 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2786

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