Evolution of the preserved European continental crust, constrained by U-Pb, O and Hf isotopic analyses of river detrital zircons

Ziyi Zhu*, Ian H. Campbell, Charlotte M. Allen, Zefeng Li

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Integrated U-Pb, O and Lu-Hf isotopic analyses of detrital zircons, collected from fourteen European river sands and one beach sand from northern Germany, were carried out to study the evolution of the preserved European continental crust. The drainage area of these sand samples covers large areas in eastern and western Europe, which evolved independently until their amalgamation during the Paleozoic. U-Pb ages of detrital zircons from eastern and western Europe generally match the ages of the major magmatic events in the two tectonic regions. The combined histogram of 2403 zircon U-Pb ages, obtained for this study, shows five major periods of zircon crystallisation: 2.80–2.65, 1.95–1.35, 1.25–0.85, 0.65–0.40, and 0.40–0.25 Ga, which correspond broadly with the timing of supercontinent assembly. The correlation could be due to enhanced granitoid magmatism and zircon growth during the supercontinent amalgamation, or the high preservation potential of igneous rocks generated during continental collisions. The O and Hf isotopic data of the analysed European river zircons show wide spreads in δ18O and εHf(t) values at ca. 1.9 Ga and 650–250 Ma, contrasting with the limited range for the Mesoproterozoic zircons. This indicates that extensive reworking of pre-existing crustal rocks occurred during the late Paleoproterozoic and Paleozoic in the evolution of the European continental crust, whereas the formation of new crust played an important role during the Mesoproterozoic. Arc mantle Hf model ages for the detrital zircons were calculated to estimate when European juvenile crust was extracted from the mantle. Model age uncertainties were estimated using the bootstrap method, considering three sources of uncertainty: (i) uncertainty in the Hf isotopic composition of the mantle reservoir, (ii) uncertainty in the 176Lu/177Hf for the crustal source region, and (iii) analytical uncertainties. Two types of model ages are calculated based on constant crustal 176Lu/177Hf (TAMC), and on variable 176Lu/177Hf (TAMV), the latter being constrained by zircon δ18O values. Histograms of the calculated TAMC and TAMV model ages both show major juvenile extraction events between the late Paleo- and Mesoproterozoic. Although the principal periods in the European crustal growth contrast with those identified in the African, Russian and Mississippi river basins, the overall growth curves for the four continents show comparable results: (i) the formation of little or no continental crust before 4.0 Ga, and (ii) the formation of 50 % of the present crustal volume by ca. 2.0–1.6 Ga.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)133-148
    Number of pages16
    JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023


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