The oldest known samples of Earth, with ages of up to 4.4 Gyr, are detrital zircon grains in meta-sedimentary rocks of the Jack Hills in Australia. These zircons offer insights into the magmas from which they crystallized, and, by implication, igneous activity and tectonics in the first 500 million years of Earth’s history, the Hadean eon. However, the compositions of these magmas and the relative contributions of igneous and sedimentary components to their sources have not yet been resolved. Here we compare the trace element concentrations of the Jack Hills zircons to those of zircons from the locality where igneous (I-) and sedimentary (S-) type granites were first distinguished. We show that the Hadean zircons crystallized predominantly from I-type magmas formed by melting of a reduced, garnet-bearing igneous crust. Further, we propose that both the phosphorus content of zircon and the ratio of phosphorus to rare earth elements can be used to distinguish between detrital zircon grains from I- and S-type sources. These elemental discriminants provide a new geochemical tool to assess the relative contributions of primeval magmatism and melting of recycled sediments to the continents over geological time.
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We thank R. Ickert and I. Williams for providing the zircons, N. Badullovich for preparing some of the samples, and C. Allen for assistance with LA-ICP-MS. A.J.B. thanks the Australian Research Council for the award of a Future Fellowship.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Burnham, A., Berry, A. Formation of Hadean granites by melting of igneous crust. Nature Geosci 10, 457–461 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2942
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