A zircon petrochronologic view on granitoids and continental evolution

C. Balica, M. N. Ducea, G. E. Gehrels, J. Kirk, R. D. Roban, P. Luffi, J. B. Chapman, A. Triantafyllou, J. Guo, A. M. Stoica, J. Ruiz, I. Balintoni, L. Profeta, D. Hoffman, L. Petrescu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Temporal trends in granitoid chemistry and thermometry constrain major global changes in magmatism, tectonism or crustal thickness in the continents. Our study relies on zircon geochronology and trace element geochemistry on four new detrital rocks (two modern sediments and two Archean metasedimentary rocks) and a global compilation of published single zircon detrital chronology and trace chemistry data acquired on 5587 individual grains. Zircons of all ages from 4.4 Ga to present exist in this archive. Ti-in-zircon thermometry indicates that more than 98% of the grains with concordant U-Pb ages formed at temperatures exceeding 650 °C. The great majority of these zircons formed in the 650–850 °C range consistent with growth in intermediate to silicic magmas. Magmatic temperatures increased over time for the first 1.2 Ga of Earth's history after which they stayed constant before decreasing during the more recent past. U/Th<5 values in the overwhelming majority of grains are consistent with a magmatic origin. La/Yb, Sm/Yb and Eu/Eu* values are relatively constant throughout the history of the Earth suggesting that most granitoids formed at, or evolved from magmatic reservoirs located at depths of 35–45 km in the presence of amphibole, garnet and limited plagioclase. Such reservoirs are common today in hot deep crustal environments beneath some of the thicker island arcs and all continental arcs along subduction zones. Processes other than modern day style subduction may have contributed to the formation of granitoids in the early Earth but temperatures, depths and the presence of water arbitrated by the presence of amphibole were similar. These results also suggest that the thickness of continental crust in areas that produced granitoids was similar to today's global average throughout the 4.4 Ga time period covered by the zircon archive. There is no correlation between zircon chemistry over time and the assembly of supercontinents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116005
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • continental crust
  • crustal evolution
  • detrital zircon
  • geochronology
  • trace element chemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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