An Exhumation History of Continents over Billion-Year Time Scales

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Science  06 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6064, pp. 73-76
DOI: 10.1126/science.1213496

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The continental lithosphere contains the oldest and most stable structures on Earth, where fragments of ancient material have eluded destruction by tectonic and surface processes operating over billions of years. Although present-day erosion of these remnants is slow, a record of how they have uplifted, eroded, and cooled over Earth’s history can provide insight into the physical properties of the continents and the forces operating to exhume them over geologic time. We constructed a continuous record of ancient lithosphere cooling with the use of uranium-lead (U-Pb) thermochronology on volcanically exhumed lower crustal fragments. Combining these measurements with thermal and Pb-diffusion models constrains the range of possible erosion histories. Measured U-Pb data are consistent with extremely low erosion rates persisting over time scales approaching the age of the continents themselves.

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