Reconstructing the emergence and weathering of continental crust in the Archaean eon is crucial for our understanding of early ocean chemistry, biosphere evolution and the onset of plate tectonics. However, considerable disagreement exists between elemental and isotopic proxies that have been used to trace crustal input into marine sediments, and data are scarce before 3 Ga. Here we show that chemical weathering modified the Sr isotopic composition of seawater as recorded in 3.52–3.20 Ga stratiform barite deposits from three different cratons. Using a combination of Sr, S and O isotope data, barite petrography and a hydrothermal mixing model, we calculate a Sr isotope evolution trend of Palaeoarchaean seawater that is much more radiogenic than the curve previously determined from carbonate rocks. Our findings suggest that evolved crust containing high Rb/Sr was subaerial and weathering into the oceans from approximately 3.7 ± 0.15 Ga onwards with impacts on ocean chemistry and the nutrient supply to the marine biosphere.
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Strontium isotope data obtained in this study are available in Supplementary Table 2 and the Pangaea data repository under https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.913541. We have used published Sr isotope data for Barite Valley, Sargur and North Pole barite samples from refs. 13,14,42, S isotope data for Londozi, North Pole, Vergelegen, Stentor/Amo and Barite Valley from ref. 19, and O isotope data for Barite Valley from ref. 33. Ages of the barite deposits are from refs. 19,25,26,27,28,30. The compilation of Archaean Sr isotope data shown in Fig. 3 is available in Supplementary Table 7 with references. Source data are provided with this paper.
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We thank A. Hoffman (University of Johannesburg, South Africa) for Sargur barite samples, S. H. Dundas for ICP-MS analyses, and J. Hoek and J. Farquhar (University of Maryland, United States) for multiple S isotope analyses. A. Beinlich, D. van Hinsbergen, H. Tsikos and M. van Zuilen are thanked for critically reading through an earlier version of the manuscript and providing constructive comments. This research was funded by the Research Council of Norway through the Centre for Geobiology (grant number 179560, D.L.R.), and fieldwork in South Africa was supported by the Dr Schürmann Foundation (grant number 46/2007 and 132/2018, P.R.D.M.).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Roerdink, D.L., Ronen, Y., Strauss, H. et al. Emergence of felsic crust and subaerial weathering recorded in Palaeoarchaean barite. Nat. Geosci. 15, 227–232 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00902-9