Homogenising the upper continental crust: the Si isotope evolution of the crust recorded by ancient glacial diamictites

Madeleine Murphy*, Paul S. Savage, Nicholas J. Gardiner, Tony Prave, Richard Gaschnig, Roberta Rudnick

*Corresponding author for this work

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Twenty-four composite samples of the fine-grained matrix of glacial diamictites deposited from the Mesoarchaean to Palaeozoic have been analysed for their silicon isotope composition and used to establish, for the first time, the long-term secular Si isotope record of the compositional evolution of upper continental crust (UCC). Diamictites with Archaean and Palaeoproterozoic Nd model ages show greater silicon isotope heterogeneity than those with younger model ages (irrespective of depositional age). We attribute the anomalously light Si isotope compositions of some diamictites with Archaean model ages to the presence of glacially milled banded iron formation (BIF), substantiated by the high iron content and Ge/Si in these samples. We infer that relatively heavy Si isotope signatures in some Palaeoproterozoic diamictites (all of which have Archaean Nd model ages) are due to contribution from tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorites (TTGs), evidenced by the abundance of TTG clasts. By the Neoproterozoic (with model ages ranging from 2.3 to 1.8 Ga), diamictite Si isotope compositions exhibit a range comparable to modern UCC. This reduced variability through time is interpreted as reflecting the decreasing importance of BIF and TTG in post-Archaean continental crust. The secular evolution of Si isotopes in the diamictites offers an independent test of models for the emergence of stable cratons and the onset of horizontal mobile-lid tectonism. The early Archaean UCC was heterogeneous and incorporated significant amounts of isotopically light BIF, but following the late Archaean stabilisation of cratons, coupled with the oxygenation of the atmosphere that led to the reduced neoformation of BIF and diminishing quantities of TTGs, the UCC became increasingly homogeneous. This homogenisation likely occurred via reworking of preexisting crust, as evidenced by Archaean Nd model ages recorded in younger diamictites.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117620
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date30 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • Silicon isotopes
  • Upper continental crust
  • Glacial diamictites
  • Crustal reworking
  • Secular change


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