Palaeoproterozoic supercontinents and global evolution: correlations from core to atmosphere
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Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2009 Volume 323. Palaeoproterozoic Supercontinents and Global Evolution
The Palaeoproterozoic era was a time of profound change in Earth evolution and represented perhaps the first supercontinent cycle, from the amalgamation and dispersal of a possible Neoarchaean supercontinent to the formation of the 1.9–1.8 Ga supercontinent Nuna. This supercontinent cycle, although currently lacking in palaeogeographic detail, can in principle provide a contextual framework to investigate the relationships between deep-Earth and surface processes. In this article, we graphically summarize secular evolution from the Earth's core to its atmosphere, from the Neoarchaean to the Mesoproterozoic eras (specifically 3.0–1.2 Ga), to reveal intriguing temporal relationships across the various ‘spheres’ of the Earth system. At the broadest level our compilation confirms an important deep-Earth event at c. 2.7 Ga that is manifested in an abrupt increase in geodynamo palaeointensity, a peak in the global record of large igneous provinces, and a broad maximum in several mantle-depletion proxies. Temporal coincidence with juvenile continental crust production and orogenic gold, massive-sulphide and porphyry copper deposits, indicate enhanced mantle convection linked to a series of mantle plumes and/or slab avalanches. The subsequent stabilization of cratonic lithosphere, the possible development of Earth's first supercontinent and the emergence of the continents led to a changing surface environment in which voluminous banded iron-formations could accumulate on the continental margins and photosynthetic life could flourish. This in turn led to irreversible atmospheric oxidation at 2.4–2.3 Ga, extreme events in global carbon cycling, and the possible dissipation of a former methane greenhouse atmosphere that resulted in extensive Palaeoproterozoic ice ages. Following the great oxidation event, shallow marine sulphate levels rose, sediment-hosted and iron-oxide-rich metal deposits became abundant, and the transition to sulphide-stratified oceans provided the environment for early eukaryotic evolution. Recent advances in the geochronology of the global stratigraphic record have made these inferences possible. Frontiers for future research include more refined modelling of Earth's thermal and geodynamic evolution, palaeomagnetic studies of geodynamo intensity and continental motions, further geochronology and tectonic syntheses at regional levels, development of new isotopic systems to constrain geochemical cycles, and continued innovation in the search for records of early life in relation to changing palaeoenvironments.
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