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A Hadean to Paleoarchean geodynamo recorded by single zircon crystals

Science  31 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6247, pp. 521-524
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa9114

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Unlocking Earth's ancient magnetic past

The magnetic field protects Earth's surface from deadly cosmic radiation and provides clues about the planet's interior. Tarduno et al. found that some of the oldest minerals on Earth, Jack Hills zircons, preserved a record of a magnetic field over 4 billion years ago (see the Perspective by Aubert). Earth's magnetic field appears to have been fully operational a mere few hundred million years after the planet formed. This suggests an early start for plate tectonics and an ancient cosmic radiation shield that was important for habitability

Science, this issue p. 521; see also p. ARTICLE

Abstract

Knowing when the geodynamo started is important for understanding the evolution of the core, the atmosphere, and life on Earth. We report full-vector paleointensity measurements of Archean to Hadean zircons bearing magnetic inclusions from the Jack Hills conglomerate (Western Australia) to reconstruct the early geodynamo history. Data from zircons between 3.3 billion and 4.2 billion years old record magnetic fields varying between 1.0 and 0.12 times recent equatorial field strengths. A Hadean geomagnetic field requires a core-mantle heat flow exceeding the adiabatic value and is suggestive of plate tectonics and/or advective magmatic heat transport. The existence of a terrestrial magnetic field before the Late Heavy Bombardment is supported by terrestrial nitrogen isotopic evidence and implies that early atmospheric evolution on both Earth and Mars was regulated by dynamo behavior.

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