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Concept: Jack Hills


Evidence of life on Earth is manifestly preserved in the rock record. However, the microfossil record only extends to ∼3.5 billion years (Ga), the chemofossil record arguably to ∼3.8 Ga, and the rock record to 4.0 Ga. Detrital zircons from Jack Hills, Western Australia range in age up to nearly 4.4 Ga. From a population of over 10,000 Jack Hills zircons, we identified one >3.8-Ga zircon that contains primary graphite inclusions. Here, we report carbon isotopic measurements on these inclusions in a concordant, 4.10 ± 0.01-Ga zircon. We interpret these inclusions as primary due to their enclosure in a crack-free host as shown by transmission X-ray microscopy and their crystal habit. Their δ(13)CPDB of -24 ± 5‰ is consistent with a biogenic origin and may be evidence that a terrestrial biosphere had emerged by 4.1 Ga, or ∼300 My earlier than has been previously proposed.

Concepts: Crystal, Earth, Carbon, X-ray microscope, Jack Hills, Zircon, Biosphere


Zircons are crucial to understanding the first 500 Myr of crustal evolution of Earth. Very few zircons of this age (>4050 Ma) have been found other than from a ~300 km diameter domain of the Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia. Here we report SIMS U-Pb and O isotope ratios and trace element analyses for two ~4100 Ma detrital zircons from a Paleozoic quartzite at the Longquan area of the Cathaysia Block. One zircon ((207)Pb/(206)Pb age of 4127 ± 4 Ma) shows normal oscillatory zonation and constant oxygen isotope ratios (δ(18)O = 5.8 to 6.0‰). The other zircon grain has a ~4100 Ma magmatic core surrounded by a ~4070 Ma metamorphic mantle. The magmatic core has elevated δ(18)O (7.2 ± 0.2‰), high titanium concentration (53 ± 3.4 ppm) and a positive cerium anomaly, yielding anomalously high calculated oxygen fugacity (FMQ + 5) and a high crystallization temperature (910°C). These results are unique among Hadean zircons and suggest a granitoid source generated from dry remelting of partly oxidizing supracrustal sediments altered by surface waters. The ~4100 Ma dry melting and subsequent ~4070 Ma metamorphism provide new evidence for the diversity of the Earth’s earliest crust.

Concepts: Earth, Geology, Metamorphic rock, Radiometric dating, Jack Hills, Zircon, Yilgarn Craton, Narryer Gneiss Terrane


Few terrestrial localities preserve more than a trace lithic record prior to ca. 3.8 Ga greatly limiting our understanding of the first 700 Ma of Earth history, a period inferred to have included a spike in the bolide flux to the inner solar system at ca. 3.85-3.95 Ga (the Late Heavy Bombardment, LHB). An accessible record of this era may be found in Hadean detrital zircons from the Jack Hills, Western Australia, in the form of μm-scale epitaxial overgrowths. By comparing crystallization temperatures of pre-3.8 Ga zircon overgrowths to the archive of zircon temperature spectra, it should, in principle, be possible to identify a distinctive impact signature. We have developed Ti-U-Th-Pb ion microprobe depth profiling to obtain age and temperature information within these zircon overgrowths and undertaken a feasibility study of its possible use in identifying impact events. Of eight grains profiled in this fashion, four have overgrowths of LHB-era age. Age vs. temperature profiles reveal a period between ca. 3.85-3.95 Ga (i.e., LHB era) characterized by significantly higher temperatures (approximately 840-875 °C) than do older or younger zircons or zircon domains (approximately 630-750 °C). However, temperatures approaching 900 °C can result in Pb isotopic exchange rendering interpretation of these profiles nonunique. Coupled age-temperature depth profiling shows promise in this role, and the preliminary data we report could represent the first terrestrial evidence for impact-related heating during the LHB.

Concepts: Earth, Solar System, Heat, Impact crater, Hadean, Jack Hills, Cool Early Earth, Zircon