Reconstruction of a 3700 Ma transgressive marine environment from Isua (Greenland): Sedimentology, stratigraphy and geochemical signatures

Allen P. Nutman, Clark R.L. Friend, Vickie C. Bennett, Martin Van Kranendonk, Allan R. Chivas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The rare preservation of a stratigraphy in the northwest of the Eoarchean Isua supracrustal belt (Greenland) demonstrates the world's earliest-recognised marine transgression. Stratigraphically lowest is the ~3710 Ma Solvang Volcanic Formation of picrites, basalts and basaltic-andesites with arc-like geochemical signatures. Close to its erosional top, this formation's volcanic rocks show increase in K2O with depletion of Na2O, depletion in Sr with no alteration in Eu abundance and δ18OVSMOW increase to +16‰, interpreted as subaerial weathering at ~3700 Ma. The sedimentary Snowpatch Formation was deposited unconformably on the Solvang Volcanic Formation. Locally, the unconformity is marked by the laterally discontinuous Conglomerate Member dominated by rounded quartz clasts, but also with clasts of basalt and andesite up to >10 cm across, layered chert and ultramafic rocks. The Conglomerate Member carries sparse detrital zircons, the youngest of which are ~3710 Ma. The conglomerates are succeeded by the Sandstone and Dolostone Member of layered quartz and dolomite clastic sandstones that locally preserve relict shallow marine cross-bedding with scoured layers, tempestite breccia beds and very rare stromatolite horizons. The Sandstone and Dolostone Member is succeeded by the ~3695 Ma BIF Member. The Snowpatch Formation quartz-dolomite sandstones and interlayered stromatolites have seawater-like REE + Y trace element patterns variably modified by a negligible to significant influx of a terrigenous component. Trace element signatures such as Ti/V ratios and normalising REE + Y data to a 3710 Ma weathered volcanic rock (rather than Post Archean Average Shale) suggest this component was derived from a juvenile arc source, resembling the basement Solvang Volcanic Formation. The detailed field and geochemical evidence such as positive correlation between Fe/Mg and Pr/Yb* in the Snowpatch Formation dolostones and BIF (banded iron formation) indicates that the dolomitic lithologies developed in a shallow water setting with clastic sedimentation, during a marine transgression over a weathered ~3710 Ma volcanic arc basement, followed by BIF deposition in deeper water. Thus by 3700 Ma, shallow-water, exposed, settings had already been established, which were the site of stromatolite development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105164
Publication statusPublished - Dec 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Dolostone
  • Eoarchean
  • Isua
  • Marine transgression
  • Snowpatch formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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