Evolution of the African continental crust as recorded by U-Pb, Lu-Hf and O isotopes in detrital zircons from modern rivers

Tsuyoshi Iizuka, Ian H. Campbell, Charlotte M. Allen, James B. Gill, Shigenori Maruyama, Frédéric Makoka

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To better understand the evolutionary history of the African continental crust, a combined U-Pb, Lu-Hf and O isotopic study has been carried out by in situ analyses of approximately 450 detrital zircon grains from the Niger, Nile, Congo, Zambezi and Orange Rivers. The U-Pb isotopic data show age peaks at ca. 2.7, 2.1-1.8, 1.2-1.0, ca. 0.8, 0.7-0.5 and ca. 0.3Ga. These peaks, with the exception of the one at ca. 0.8Ga, correspond with the assembly of supercontinents. Furthermore, the detrital zircons that crystallized during these periods of supercontinent assembly have dominantly non-mantle-like O and Hf isotopic signatures, in contrast to the ca. 0.8Ga detrital zircons which have juvenile characteristics. These data can be interpreted as showing that continental collisions during supercontinent assembly resulted in supermountain building accompanied by remelting of older continental crust, which in turn led to significant erosion of young igneous rocks with non-mantle-like isotopic signatures. Alternatively, the data may indicate that the major mode of crustal development changed during the supercontinent cycle: the generation of juvenile crust in extensional settings was dominant during supercontinent fragmentation, whereas the stabilization of the generated crust via crustal accretion and reworking was important during supercontinent assembly. The Lu-Hf and O isotope systematics indicate that terreigneous sediments could attain elevated 18O/16O via prolonged sediment-sediment recycling over long crustal residence time, and also that reworking of carbonate and chert which generally have elevated 18O/16O and low Hf contents is minor in granitoid magmatism. The highest 18O/16O in detrital zircon abruptly increased at ca. 2.1Ga and became nearly constant thereafter. This indicates that reworking of mature sediments increased abruptly at that time, probably as a result of a transition in the dynamics of either granitoid crust formation or sedimentary evolution. To estimate the mantle-extraction age of the reworked crust, we have calculated arc mantle Hf model ages for the detrital zircons using O isotopic data to constrain the Lu/Hf used in the model age calculation. The Hf model age histograms for each period of detrital zircons suggest that a significant amount of the African continental crust was generated in the Paleo-Mesoproterozoic likely by mafic magmatism, and subsequently reworked into younger granitoid crust with varying crustal residence times.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-120
Number of pages25
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - Apr 5 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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