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Research

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Publication details for Prof Jeroen van Hunen

Maunder, B., van Hunen, J., Magni, M. & Bouilhol, P. (2016). Relamination of mafic subducting crust throughout Earth’s history. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 449: 206-216.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Earth has likely cooled by several hundred degrees over its history, which has probably affected subduction dynamics and associated magmatism. Today, the process of compositional buoyancy driven upwelling, and subsequent underplating, of subducted materials (commonly referred to as “relamination”) is thought to play a role in the formation of continental crust. Given that Archean continental crust formation is best explained by the involvement of mafic material, we investigate the feasibility of mafic crust relamination under a wide range of conditions applicable to modern and early Earth subduction zones, to assess if such a process might have been viable in an early Earth setting.

Our numerical parametric study illustrates that the hotter, thicker-crust conditions of the early Earth favour the upward relamination of mafic subducting crust. The amount of relaminating subducting crust is observed to vary significantly, with subduction convergence rate having the strongest control on the volume of relaminated material. Indeed, removal of the entire mafic crust from the subducting slab is possible for slow subduction (∼2 cm/yr) under Archean conditions. We also observe great variability in the depth at which this separation occurs (80–120 km), with events corresponding to shallower detachment being more voluminous, and that relaminating material has to remain metastably buoyant until this separation depth, which is supported by geological, geophysical and geodynamical observations. Furthermore, this relamination behaviour is commonly episodic with a typical repeat time of approximately 10 Myrs, similar to timescales of episodicity observed in the Archean rock record. We demonstrate that this relamination process can result in the heating of considerable quantities of mafic material (to temperatures in excess of 900 °C), which is then emplaced below the over-riding lithosphere. As such, our results have implications for Archean subduction zone magmatism, for continental crust formation in the early Earth, and provide a novel explanation for the secular evolution of continental crust.