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A Palaeoproterozoic tectono-magmatic lull as a potential trigger for the supercontinent cycle


The geologic record exhibits periods of active and quiescent geologic processes, including magmatism, metamorphism and mineralization. This apparent episodicity has been ascribed either to bias in the geologic record or fundamental changes in geodynamic processes. An appraisal of the global geologic record from about 2.3 to 2.2 billion years ago demonstrates a Palaeoproterozoic tectono-magmatic lull. During this lull, global-scale continental magmatism (plume and arc magmatism) and orogenic activity decreased. There was also a lack of passive margin sedimentation and relative plate motions were subdued. A global compilation of mafic igneous rocks demonstrates that this episode of magmatic quiescence was terminated about 2.2 billion years ago by a flare-up of juvenile magmatism. This post-lull magmatic flare-up is distinct from earlier such events, in that the material extracted from the mantle during the flare-up yielded significant amounts of continental material that amalgamated to form Nuna — Earth’s first hemispheric supercontinent. We posit that the juvenile magmatic flare-up was caused by the release of significant thermal energy that had accumulated over some time. This flux of mantle-derived energy could have provided a mechanism for dramatic growth of continental crust, as well as the increase in relative plate motions required to complete the transition to modern plate tectonics and the supercontinent cycle. These events may also be linked to Palaeoproterozoic atmospheric oxygenation and equilibration of the carbon cycle.

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Fig. 1: Temporal gaps in orogenic, passive margin and large igneous province activity.
Fig. 2: Temporal lull in magmatic rocks.
Fig. 3: Palaeoproterozoic zircon hafnium.
Fig. 4: Mantle extraction lull and flare-up.
Fig. 5: Plate velocity slowdown and geologic gaps/lulls.


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This work was supported by the Curtin Research Fellowship to C.J.S. and ARC Laureate Fellowship grant (FL150100133) to Z. X. Li. Thorough reviews from K. Condie and H. Rollinson greatly improved this manuscript. We thank P. Cawood, A. Collins, H. McFarlane, P. Betts, W. Collins, A. Cavosie, S. Pisarevsky and Z. X. Li for helpful discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.J.S. initiated the compilation and synthesis of geochronological data. Y.L. and R.N.M. compiled and analysed the palaeomagnetic data. All of the authors wrote the paper and designed the figures.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Spencer.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Explanation of data source compilation and screening

Supplementary Table 1

Compilation of early Palaeoproterozoic orogens

Supplementary Table 2

Compiled passive margins

Supplementary Table 3

Compilation of magmatic rocks from 2,000 to 2,400 Myr ago

Supplementary Table 4

Available palaeomagnetic data and calculated plate velocity from 2,550 to 2,000 Myr ago

Supplementary Table 5

Rates of apparent polar wander constrained by palaeomagnetic data

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Spencer, C.J., Murphy, J.B., Kirkland, C.L. et al. A Palaeoproterozoic tectono-magmatic lull as a potential trigger for the supercontinent cycle. Nature Geosci 11, 97–101 (2018).

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