Studies of heat flow from Precambrian terrains have demonstrated three empirical relationships; a temporal relationship between heat flow and tectonic age, a spatial pattern between heat flow and the proximity of Archean cratons, and a temporal relationship between heat flow and the age of lithosphere stabilization. In the first relationship, heat flow is inversely related to tectonic age. The second pattern is characterized by low heat flow from Archean cratons and Proterozoic terrains adjacent to cratonic margins (pericratonic terrains), and higher heat flow from Proterozoic terrains that are more than a few hundred kilometers from a craton. In the third pattern, heat flow decreases as the age of stabilization of the lithosphere increases. A number of interpretations of Precambrian heat flow have been offered to explain one or more of these relationships. The simple cooling of a thermal boundary layer predicts essentially no change in heat flow in terrains older than ∼ 1.5 Ga, and therefore does not likely provide a comprehensive framework for the interpretation of Precambrian heat flow. By contrast, two other interpretations, (1) thicker lithosphere beneath Archean terrains than beneath Proterozoic terrains, and (2) greater heat production in Proterozoic crust than in Archean crust, when combined with the special structural configuration of sutures, can both contribute to the spatial and temporal heat flow distributions. Xenolith thermobarometry constraints on lithospheric temperatures, however, limit the contribution of age-dependent crustal heat production, and therefore at least part of the heat flow distributions derive from variations in lithosphere thickness.
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