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

  • Nature Geosciencevolume 11pages97101 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41561-017-0051-y
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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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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.

Author information

Author notes

    • Christopher J. Spencer
    • , J. Brendan Murphy
    • , Yebo Liu
    •  & Ross N. Mitchell

    Present address: School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia


  1. Earth Dynamics Research Group, The Institute for Geoscience Research, Department of Applied Geology, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

    • Christopher J. Spencer
    • , J. Brendan Murphy
    • , Yebo Liu
    •  & Ross N. Mitchell
  2. Department of Earth Sciences, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

    • J. Brendan Murphy
  3. Centre for Exploration Targeting — Curtin Node, Department of Applied Geology, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

    • Christopher L. Kirkland


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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher J. Spencer.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Explanation of data source compilation and screening

  2. Supplementary Table 1

    Compilation of early Palaeoproterozoic orogens

  3. Supplementary Table 2

    Compiled passive margins

  4. Supplementary Table 3

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

  5. Supplementary Table 4

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

  6. Supplementary Table 5

    Rates of apparent polar wander constrained by palaeomagnetic data