Intermediate-P/T type Archean metamorphism of the Isua supracrustal belt: Implications for secular change of geothermal gradients at subduction zones and for Archean plate tectonics

Tsuyoshi Komiya, Mamoru Hayashi, Shigenori Maruyama, Hisayoshi Yurimoto

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69 Citations (Scopus)


The Isua supracrustal belt (ISB) rocks are dated at about 3.8 Ga and constitute the oldest accretionary complex in the world. Petrochemical and geothermobarometric studies of over 1,500 rock samples in ISB enabled us to estimate the extent of regional metamorphism, petrotectonic environment and subduction- zone geothermal gradient in the Archean. The following lines of evidence indicate the first discovery of progressive, prograde metamorphism from greenschist (Zone A) through Ab-Ep-amphibolite (Zone B) to amphibolite facies (Zones C and D) in the northeast part of the Isua supracrustal belt: (1) systematic change of mineral paragenesis in metabasites and metapelites; (2) progressive change of composition of major metamorphic minerals, including plagioclase, amphibole, chlorite, epidote, and garnet; (3) normal zoning of amphibole and garnet; and (4) absence of any vestige of high-grade metamorphism even in the lowest metamorphic zone. Geology and chronological constraints of ISB indicate that the regional metamorphism was related to the subduction of Archean lithosphere. Metamorphic pressures and temperatures of the metamorphism are estimated to be 5 to 7 kbar from Grt-Hbl-Pl-Qz geobarometry and 380° to 550°C from the Grt-Bt geothermometry in Zones B to D. These P-T estimates indicate that ISB was affected by progressive metamorphism of an intermediate P/T ratio metamorphic facies series, and that it records a much higher geothermal gradient of a subduction zone in the Archean than is known from the Phanerozoic. The high geothermal gradient may have resulted from the subduction of young lithosphere and a high potential temperature of mantle. The Archean high geothermal gradient led to melting of thick oceanic crust in a thin oceanic plate, creating many huge granitic (tonalite, trondhjemite, and granodiorite) batholiths. The slab melting changed the oceanic crust (density = 3.07) into a denser Grt-bearing residue (density = 3.55), implying that TTG melt extraction provided a potential driving force for Archean plate tectonics. In addition to the preservation of the oldest accretionary complex, this suggests that Precambrian-type plate tectonics, whose driving force is slab-pull due to densification of the residue of oceanic crust as a consequence of slab melting, was already operating in the Early Archean. The transition from Precambrian-type to Phanerozoic-type plate tectonics may be caused by thinning of oceanic crust and thickening of oceanic lithosphere in the late Archean, due to decrease of mantle temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)806-826
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Journal of Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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