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

Arthur H. Hickman, Martin J. Van Kranendonk

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67 Citations (Scopus)


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
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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