Zircon Hf Isotopes and the Continental Evolution of Dronning Maud Land, East Antacrtica
Geochemical studies of single mineral grains in rocks can be probed to reconstruct the history of our planet. The mineral zircon (ZrSiO4) is of unique importance in that respect because of its reliability as a geologic clock due to its strong persistence against weathering, transport and changes in temperature and pressure. Uranium-Lead (U-Pb) dating of zircon grains is, perhaps, the most frequently employed method of extracting time information on geologic processes that shaped the continental crust, and has been used to constrain the evolution of continents and mountain belts through time. In addition, the isotopic composition of the element Hafnium (Hf) in zircon is used to date when the continental crust was generated by extraction of magma from the underlying mantle. Melting of rocks in the mantle and deep in the continental crust are key processes in the evolution of the continents, and they are recorded in the Hf isotopic signatures of zircon. Although the analytical procedures for U-Pb dating and Hf isotope analyses of zircon are robust now, our understanding of zircon growth and its exchange of elements and isotopes with its surrounding rock or magma are still underdeveloped. The focus of the proposed study, therefore, is to unravel the evolution of zircon Hf isotopes in rocks that were formed deep in the Earth?s crust, and more specifically, to apply these isotopic methods to rocks collected in Dronning Maud Land (DML), East Antarctica.
Dronning Maud Land (DML) occupied a central location during the formation of supercontinents ? large landmasses made up of all the continents that exist today - more than 500 million years ago. It is currently thought that supercontinents were formed and dismembered five or six times throughout Earth?s history. The area of DML is key for understanding the formation history of the last two supercontinents. The boundaries of continents that were merged to form those supercontinents are most likely hidden in DML. In this study, the isotopic composition of zircon grains recovered from DML rocks will be employed to identify these boundaries across an extensive section through the area. The rock samples were collected by the investigator during a two-month expedition to Antarctica in the austral summer of 2007?2008. The results of dating and isotope analyses of zircon of the different DML crustal domains will deliver significant insight into the regional geology of East Antarctica and its previous northern extension into Africa. This has significance for the reconstruction of the supercontinents and defining the continental boundaries in DML.
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