When and how Earth's ancient crust – the cratons – became underpinned by cool, thick lithospheric mantle roots capable of hosting diamonds are among the most controversial aspects of Archean geology. Alluvial diamonds in cratonic sedimentary cover rocks, whose minimum age is determined by detrital-zircon geochronology, provide a unique perspective on this topic. A new discovery of a diamond-bearing quartz-pebble conglomerate from the northern Slave craton, Canada contains detrital zircon with a restricted U-Pb age distribution that has a dominant peak at ∼2.94 Ga and depositional age of ∼2.83 Ga. Pressure-temperature constraints derived from an olivine-diamond host pair lie on a conductive Mesoarchean geotherm of ∼36–38 mW/m2, comparable to the coolest modern lithospheric geotherms. This result is at odds with a hotter geothermal gradient related to nearby Mesoarchean komatiites. We propose a model whereby early building blocks for cratons were small but with deep cool roots that formed by slab-stacking, and were subsequently juxtaposed with regions of thinner, hotter lithosphere. This heterogeneous initial architecture later amalgamated and thickened through lateral accretion forming the more uniformly thick cratonic lithosphere observed today. Thermal modelling indicates that stacking/thickening of cool initial lithosphere into a lithospheric keel thick enough to stabilise diamonds is the most likely way of generating the observed geotherm by Mesoarchean times.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Space and Planetary Science
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)