Publications by authors named "Tim E Johnson"

6 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

Oxygen isotopes trace the origins of Earth's earliest continental crust.

Nature 2021 04 31;592(7852):70-75. Epub 2021 Mar 31.

Geological Survey of Western Australia, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, East Perth, Western Australia, Australia.

Much of the current volume of Earth's continental crust had formed by the end of the Archaean eon (2.5 billion years ago), through melting of hydrated basaltic rocks at depths of approximately 25-50 kilometres, forming sodic granites of the tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite (TTG) suite. However, the geodynamic setting and processes involved are debated, with fundamental questions arising, such as how and from where the required water was added to deep-crustal TTG source regions. In addition, there have been no reports of voluminous, homogeneous, basaltic sequences in preserved Archaean crust that are enriched enough in incompatible trace elements to be viable TTG sources. Here we use variations in the oxygen isotope composition of zircon, coupled with whole-rock geochemistry, to identify two distinct groups of TTG. Strongly sodic TTGs represent the most-primitive magmas and contain zircon with oxygen isotope compositions that reflect source rocks that had been hydrated by primordial mantle-derived water. These primitive TTGs do not require a source highly enriched in incompatible trace elements, as 'average' TTG does. By contrast, less sodic 'evolved' TTGs require a source that is enriched in both water derived from the hydrosphere and also incompatible trace elements, which are linked to the introduction of hydrated magmas (sanukitoids) formed by melting of metasomatized mantle lithosphere. By concentrating on data from the Palaeoarchaean crust of the Pilbara Craton, we can discount a subduction setting, and instead propose that hydrated and enriched near-surface basaltic rocks were introduced into the mantle through density-driven convective overturn of the crust. These results remove many of the paradoxical impediments to understanding early continental crust formation. Our work suggests that sufficient primordial water was already present in Earth's early mafic crust to produce the primitive nuclei of the continents, with additional hydrated sources created through dynamic processes that are unique to the early Earth.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03337-1DOI Listing
April 2021

The internal structure and geodynamics of Mars inferred from a 4.2-Gyr zircon record.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2020 12 16;117(49):30973-30979. Epub 2020 Nov 16.

Centre for Star and Planet Formation, Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark;

Combining U-Pb ages with Lu-Hf data in zircon provides insights into the magmatic history of rocky planets. The Northwest Africa (NWA) 7034/7533 meteorites are samples of the southern highlands of Mars containing zircon with ages as old as 4476.3 ± 0.9 Ma, interpreted to reflect reworking of the primordial Martian crust by impacts. We extracted a statistically significant zircon population ( = 57) from NWA 7533 that defines a temporal record spanning 4.2 Gyr. Ancient zircons record ages from 4485.5 ± 2.2 Ma to 4331.0 ± 1.4 Ma, defining a bimodal distribution with groupings at 4474 ± 10 Ma and 4442 ± 17 Ma. We interpret these to represent intense bombardment episodes at the planet's surface, possibly triggered by the early migration of gas giant planets. The unradiogenic initial Hf-isotope composition of these zircons establishes that Mars's igneous activity prior to ∼4.3 Ga was limited to impact-related reworking of a chemically enriched, primordial crust. A group of younger detrital zircons record ages from 1548.0 ± 8.8 Ma to 299.5 ± 0.6 Ma. The only plausible sources for these grains are the temporally associated Elysium and Tharsis volcanic provinces that are the expressions of deep-seated mantle plumes. The chondritic-like Hf-isotope compositions of these zircons require the existence of a primitive and convecting mantle reservoir, indicating that Mars has been in a stagnant-lid tectonic regime for most of its history. Our results imply that zircon is ubiquitous on the Martian surface, providing a faithful record of the planet's magmatic history.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016326117DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7733809PMC
December 2020

No evidence for high-pressure melting of Earth's crust in the Archean.

Nat Commun 2019 12 5;10(1):5559. Epub 2019 Dec 5.

Univ Rennes, CNRS, Géosciences Rennes - UMR 6118, 35000, Rennes, France.

Much of the present-day volume of Earth's continental crust had formed by the end of the Archean Eon, 2.5 billion years ago, through the conversion of basaltic (mafic) crust into sodic granite of tonalite, trondhjemite and granodiorite (TTG) composition. Distinctive chemical signatures in a small proportion of these rocks, the so-called high-pressure TTG, are interpreted to indicate partial melting of hydrated crust at pressures above 1.5 GPa (>50 km depth), pressures typically not reached in post-Archean continental crust. These interpretations significantly influence views on early crustal evolution and the onset of plate tectonics. Here we show that high-pressure TTG did not form through melting of crust, but through fractionation of melts derived from metasomatically enriched lithospheric mantle. Although the remaining, and dominant, group of Archean TTG did form through melting of hydrated mafic crust, there is no evidence that this occurred at depths significantly greater than the ~40 km average thickness of modern continental crust.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13547-xDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6895241PMC
December 2019

Metamorphism and the evolution of plate tectonics.

Nature 2019 08 7;572(7769):378-381. Epub 2019 Aug 7.

School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, The Institute for Geoscience Research (TIGeR), Space Science and Technology Centre, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.

Earth's mantle convection, which facilitates planetary heat loss, is manifested at the surface as present-day plate tectonics. When plate tectonics emerged and how it has evolved through time are two of the most fundamental and challenging questions in Earth science. Metamorphic rocks-rocks that have experienced solid-state mineral transformations due to changes in pressure (P) and temperature (T)-record periods of burial, heating, exhumation and cooling that reflect the tectonic environments in which they formed. Changes in the global distribution of metamorphic (P, T) conditions in the continental crust through time might therefore reflect the secular evolution of Earth's tectonic processes. On modern Earth, convergent plate margins are characterized by metamorphic rocks that show a bimodal distribution of apparent thermal gradients (temperature change with depth; parameterized here as metamorphic T/P) in the form of paired metamorphic belts, which is attributed to metamorphism near (low T/P) and away from (high T/P) subduction zones. Here we show that Earth's modern plate tectonic regime has developed gradually with secular cooling of the mantle since the Neoarchaean era, 2.5 billion years ago. We evaluate the emergence of bimodal metamorphism (as a proxy for secular change in plate tectonics) using a statistical evaluation of the distributions of metamorphic T/P through time. We find that the distribution of metamorphic T/P has gradually become wider and more distinctly bimodal from the Neoarchaean era to the present day, and the average metamorphic T/P has decreased since the Palaeoproterozoic era. Our results contrast with studies that inferred an abrupt transition in tectonic style in the Neoproterozoic era (about 0.7 billion years ago) or that suggested that modern plate tectonics has operated since the Palaeoproterozoic era (about two billion years ago) at the latest.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1462-2DOI Listing
August 2019

Corrigendum: Earth's first stable continents did not form by subduction.

Nature 2017 05 10;545(7655):510. Epub 2017 May 10.

This corrects the article DOI: 10.1038/nature21383.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature22385DOI Listing
May 2017

Earth's first stable continents did not form by subduction.

Nature 2017 03 27;543(7644):239-242. Epub 2017 Feb 27.

Geological Survey of Western Australia, 100 Plain Street, East Perth, Western Australia 6004, Australia.

The geodynamic environment in which Earth's first continents formed and were stabilized remains controversial. Most exposed continental crust that can be dated back to the Archaean eon (4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago) comprises tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite rocks (TTGs) that were formed through partial melting of hydrated low-magnesium basaltic rocks; notably, these TTGs have 'arc-like' signatures of trace elements and thus resemble the continental crust produced in modern subduction settings. In the East Pilbara Terrane, Western Australia, low-magnesium basalts of the Coucal Formation at the base of the Pilbara Supergroup have trace-element compositions that are consistent with these being source rocks for TTGs. These basalts may be the remnants of a thick (more than 35 kilometres thick), ancient (more than 3.5 billion years old) basaltic crust that is predicted to have existed if Archaean mantle temperatures were much hotter than today's. Here, using phase equilibria modelling of the Coucal basalts, we confirm their suitability as TTG 'parents', and suggest that TTGs were produced by around 20 per cent to 30 per cent melting of the Coucal basalts along high geothermal gradients (of more than 700 degrees Celsius per gigapascal). We also analyse the trace-element composition of the Coucal basalts, and propose that these rocks were themselves derived from an earlier generation of high-magnesium basaltic rocks, suggesting that the arc-like signature in Archaean TTGs was inherited from an ancestral source lineage. This protracted, multistage process for the production and stabilization of the first continents-coupled with the high geothermal gradients-is incompatible with modern-style plate tectonics, and favours instead the formation of TTGs near the base of thick, plateau-like basaltic crust. Thus subduction was not required to produce TTGs in the early Archaean eon.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature21383DOI Listing
March 2017