Impact cratering was a dominant geologic process in the early Solar System that probably played an active role in the crustal evolution of the young terrestrial planets. The Earth’s interior during the Hadean, 4.56 to 4 billion years ago, may have been too hot to sustain plate tectonics. However, whether large impacts could have triggered tectonism on the early Earth remains unclear. Here we conduct global-scale tectonic simulations of the evolution of the Earth through the Hadean eon under variable impact fluxes. Our simulations show that the thermal anomalies produced by large impacts induce mantle upwellings that are capable of driving transient subduction events. Furthermore, we find that moderate-sized impacts can act as subduction triggers by causing localized lithospheric thinning and mantle upwelling, and modulate tectonic activity. In contrast to contemporary subduction, the simulated localized subduction events are relatively short-lived (less than 10 Myr) with relatively thin, weak plates. We suggest that resurgence in subduction activity induced by an increased impact flux between 4.1 and 4.0 billion years ago may explain the coincident increase in palaeointensity of the magnetic field. We further suggest that transient impact-driven subduction reconciles evidence from Hadean zircons for tectonic activity with other lines of evidence consistent with an Earth that was largely tectonically stagnant from the Hadean into the Archaean.
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C.O’N. and S.Z. acknowledge support from the CCFS ARC Centre of Excellence (Pub. no. 1003/1175). S.M. and W.B. acknowledge support from NASA Exobiology program and NASA SSERVI.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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O’Neill, C., Marchi, S., Zhang, S. et al. Impact-driven subduction on the Hadean Earth. Nature Geosci 10, 793–797 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo3029
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