The tectonic regime of the early Earth has proven enigmatic due to a scarcity of preserved continental crust, yet how early continents were generated is key to deciphering Earth's evolution. Here we show that a compilation of data from 4.3 to 3.4 Ga igneous and detrital zircons records a secular shift to higher 176Hf/177Hf after ~3.8-3.6 Ga. This globally evident shift indicates that continental crust formation before ~3.8-3.6 Ga largely occurred by internal reworking of long-lived mafic protocrust, whereas later continental crust formation involved extensive input of relatively juvenile magmas, which were produced from rapid remelting of oceanic lithosphere. We propose that this secular shift in the global hafnium isotope record reflects a gradual yet widespread transition from stagnant-lid to mobile-lid tectonics on the early Earth.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- Geochemistry and Petrology