Continents as lithological icebergs: The importance of buoyant lithospheric roots

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
By: , and 



An understanding of the formation of new continental crust provides an important guide to locating the oldest terrestrial rocks and minerals. We evaluated the crustal thicknesses of the thinnest stable continental crust and of an unsubductable oceanic plateau and used the resulting data to estimate the amount of mantle melting which produces permanent continental crust. The lithospheric mantle is sufficiently depleted to produce permanent buoyancy (i.e., the crust is unsubductable) at crustal thicknesses greater than 25–27 km. These unsubductable oceanic plateaus and hotspot island chains are important sources of new continental crust. The newest continental crust (e.g., the Ontong Java plateau) has a basaltic composition, not a granitic one. The observed structure and geochemistry of continents are the result of convergent margin magmatism and metamorphism which modify the nascent basaltic crust into a lowermost basaltic layer overlain by a more silicic upper crust. The definition of a continent should imply only that the lithosphere is unsubductable over ≥ 0.25 Ga time periods. Therefore, the search for the oldest crustal rocks should include rocks from lower to mid-crustal levels.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Continents as lithological icebergs: The importance of buoyant lithospheric roots
Series title Earth and Planetary Science Letters
DOI 10.1016/S0012-821X(97)00065-4
Volume 149
Issue 1-4
Year Published 1997
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 15
Last page 27
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details