Early Earth evolution: Evidence from the 3.5-1.8 Ga geological history of the Pilbara region of Western Australia

Arthur H. Hickman, Martin Van Kranendonk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

41 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is one of only two areas on Earth - the other being the Kaapvaal Craton of southern Africa - that contain well preserved, nearcontinuous geological records of crustal evolution from the Paleoarchean into the late Paleoproterozoic. The Pilbara is famous for hosting fossil evidence of early life (stromatolites and microfossils), and for containing a record of the early Archean atmosphere. The geological record extends from granite-greenstone terranes and overlying clastic basins of the 3.53-2.83 Ga Pilbara Craton, across a major unconformity, to a series of 2.78- 1.79 Ga volcanic and sedimentary successions. Between 3.53-3.23 Ga, a succession of mantle plume events formed a thick volcanic plateau on older continental crust, remnants of which include enclaves of c. 3.6 Ga granitic gneiss and abundant 3.8-3.6 Ga inherited and detrital zircons. During each of the plume events, the volcanic plateau was intruded by crustally-derived granitic rocks, leading to vertical deformation by partial convective overturn. By 3.23 Ga, these processes had established thick continental crust that was then rifted into three microplates separated by c. 3.2 Ga basins of oceanic crust. Subsequent plate tectonic processes to 2.90 Ga included subduction, terrane accretion, and orogeny. From 2.78-2.63 Ga the northern Pilbara Craton was affected by minor rifting, followed by deposition of thick basaltic formations separated by felsic volcanic and sedimentary rocks (Fortescue Basin). Rifting in the southern Pilbara resulted in progressively deepening marginal basin sedimentation, including thick units of banded iron formation (Hamersley Basin: 2.63-2.45 Ga). At c. 2.45 Ga, sedimentation in the southern Pilbara changed to a mixed assemblage of clastic and carbonate sedimentary rocks of the Turee Creek Basin, including one unit of glacial diamictites. Deposition of the unconformably overlying 2.21-1.79 Ga Wyloo Group in the Ashburton Basin followed the Ophthalmian Orogeny, and all of these rocks were deformed by the Panhandle (c. 2 Ga) and Capricorn (c. 1.78 Ga) orogenies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-297
Number of pages15
JournalEpisodes
Volume35
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

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early Earth
history
basin
craton
geological record
orogeny
continental crust
rifting
sedimentary rock
terrane
plateau
sedimentation
banded iron formation
crustal evolution
overturn
marginal basin
greenstone
felsic rock
microplate
enclave

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

Cite this

Early Earth evolution : Evidence from the 3.5-1.8 Ga geological history of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. / Hickman, Arthur H.; Van Kranendonk, Martin.

In: Episodes, Vol. 35, No. 1, 01.01.2012, p. 283-297.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

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