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Concept: Zircon


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


The end-Triassic extinction is characterized by major losses in both terrestrial and marine diversity, setting the stage for dinosaurs to dominate Earth for the next 136 million years. Despite the approximate coincidence between this extinction and flood basalt volcanism, existing geochronologic dates have insufficient resolution to confirm eruptive rates required to induce major climate perturbations. Here, we present new zircon U-Pb geochronologic constraints on the age and duration of flood basalt volcanism within the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. This chronology demonstrates synchroneity between the earliest volcanism and extinction, tests and corroborates the existing astrochronologic time scale, and shows that the release of magma and associated atmospheric flux occurred in four pulses over ~600,000 years, indicating expansive volcanism even as the biologic recovery was under way.

Concepts: Time, Earth, Volcano, Basalt, Lava, Zircon, Flood basalt, Geochronology


The history of the Hadean Earth (∼4.0-4.5 billion years ago) is poorly understood because few known rocks are older than ∼3.8 billion years old. The main constraints from this era come from ancient submillimetre zircon grains. Some of these zircons date back to ∼4.4 billion years ago when the Moon, and presumably the Earth, was being pummelled by an enormous flux of extraterrestrial bodies. The magnitude and exact timing of these early terrestrial impacts, and their effects on crustal growth and evolution, are unknown. Here we provide a new bombardment model of the Hadean Earth that has been calibrated using existing lunar and terrestrial data. We find that the surface of the Hadean Earth was widely reprocessed by impacts through mixing and burial by impact-generated melt. This model may explain the age distribution of Hadean zircons and the absence of early terrestrial rocks. Existing oceans would have repeatedly boiled away into steam atmospheres as a result of large collisions as late as about 4 billion years ago.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Planet, Moon, Dwarf planet, Atmospheric pressure, Mantle, Zircon


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.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Dynamo theory, Plate tectonics, Planet, Atmosphere, Zircon


Silicic volcanic eruptions pose considerable hazards, yet the processes leading to these eruptions remain poorly known. A missing link is knowledge of the thermal history of magma feeding such eruptions, which largely controls crystallinity and therefore eruptability. We have determined the thermal history of individual zircon crystals from an eruption of the Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand. Results show that although zircons resided in the magmatic system for 10(3) to 10(5) years, they experienced temperatures >650° to 750°C for only years to centuries. This implies near-solidus long-term crystal storage, punctuated by rapid heating and cooling. Reconciling these data with existing models of magma storage requires considering multiple small intrusions and multiple spatial scales, and our approach can help to quantify heat input to and output from magma reservoirs.

Concepts: Crystal, Temperature, Heat, Knowledge, Volcano, Magma, Basalt, Zircon


Plutons are formed by protracted crystallization of magma bodies several kilometers deep within the crust. The temporal frequency (i.e. episodicity or ‘tempo’) of pluton formation is often poorly constrained as timescales of pluton formation are largely variable and may be difficult to resolve by traditional dating methods. The Hida Mountain Range of central Japan hosts the youngest exposed plutons on Earth and provides a unique opportunity to assess the temporal and spatial characteristics of pluton emplacement at high temporal resolution. Here we apply U-Pb geochronology to zircon from the Quaternary Kurobegawa Granite and Takidani Granodiorite in the Hida Mountain Range, and from modern river sediments whose fluvial catchments include these plutons in order to reconstruct their formation. The U-Pb data demonstrate that the Kurobegawa pluton experienced two magmatic pulses at ~2.3 Ma and ~0.9 Ma; whereas, to the south, the Takidani pluton experienced only one magmatic pulse at ~1.6 Ma. These data imply that each of these magmatic systems were both spatially and temporally distinct. The apparent ~0.7 Myr age gap between each of the three magmatic pulses potentially constrains the recharge duration of a single pluton within a larger arc plutonic complex.

Concepts: Igneous rock, Geology, Petrology, Granite, Intrusion, Zircon, Pluton, Geochronology


The mineral zircon through its isotopic and elemental signatures comprises the greatest archive recording the evolution of Earth’s continental crust. Recognising primary from secondary zircon compositional signatures is thus important for the accurate interpretation of this archive. We report two examples of metasedimentary rocks from high-grade shear zones within the Southern Granulite Belt of India, where anomalously high and homogeneous oxygen isotope signatures indicate disturbance of this isotopic system. Utilising the combined U-Pb-Hf-O and trace element signatures from these zircon grains, we postulate that fluid-assisted alteration has led to complete resetting of the oxygen isotope signatures. This case study presents a rarely observed natural example of potentially fast diffusion of oxygen under hydrous conditions. Given the pervasive nature of fluid interaction within high-grade and highly deformed rocks, we expect that such isotopic disturbance might be more common to nature than is currently reported. A lack of correlation between isotopic disturbance with cathodoluminescence or Th/U values, suggests that these altered zircon grains would not clearly be classified as metamorphic, in which case they would be expected to yield primary compositions. Caution is therefore advised when using detrital δ18O zircon compilations without a high level of scrutiny for primary versus secondary compositions.

Concepts: Earth, Sedimentary rock, Igneous rock, Chemical element, Isotope, Metamorphic rock, Granite, Zircon


Granitoid-hosted mineral deposits are major global sources of a number of economically important metals. The fundamental controls on magma metal fertility are tectonic setting, the nature of source rocks, and magma differentiation. A clearer understanding of these petrogenetic processes has been forged through the accessory mineral zircon, which has considerable potential in metallogenic studies. We present an integrated zircon isotope (U-Pb, Lu-Hf, O) and trace element dataset from the paired Cu-Au (copper) and Sn-W (tin) magmatic belts in Myanmar. Copper arc zircons have juvenile εHf (+7.6 to +11.5) and mantle-like δ(18)O (5.2-5.5‰), whereas tin belt zircons have low εHf (-7 to -13) and heavier δ(18)O (6.2-7.7‰). Variations in zircon Hf and U/Yb reaffirm that tin belt magmas contain greater crustal contributions than copper arc rocks. Links between whole-rock Rb/Sr and zircon Eu/Eu* highlight that the latter can monitor magma fractionation in these systems. Zircon Ce/Ce* and Eu/Eu* are sensitive to redox and fractionation respectively, and here are used to evaluate zircon sensitivity to the metallogenic affinity of their host rock. Critical contents of Sn in granitic magmas, which may be required for the development of economic tin deposits, are marked by zircon Eu/Eu* values of ca. ≤0.08.

Concepts: Igneous rock, Aluminium, Metal, Copper, Rock, Magma, Granite, Zircon


Zircon (ZrSiO4) is the most commonly used geochronometer, preserving age and geochemical information through a wide range of geological processes. However, zircon U-Pb geochronology can be affected by redistribution of radiogenic Pb, which is incompatible in the crystal structure. This phenomenon is particularly common in zircon that has experienced ultra-high temperature metamorphism, where ion imaging has revealed submicrometer domains that are sufficiently heterogeneously distributed to severely perturb ages, in some cases yielding apparent Hadean (>4 Ga) ages from younger zircons. Documenting the composition and mineralogy of these Pb-enriched domains is essential for understanding the processes of Pb redistribution in zircon and its effects on geochronology. Using high-resolution scanning transmission electron microscopy, we show that Pb-rich domains previously identified in zircons from East Antarctic granulites are 5-30 nm nanospheres of metallic Pb. They are randomly distributed with respect to zircon crystallinity, and their association with a Ti- and Al-rich silica melt suggests that they represent melt inclusions generated during ultra-high temperature metamorphism. Metallic Pb is exceedingly rare in nature and previously has not been reported in association with high-grade metamorphism. Formation of these metallic nanospheres within annealed zircon effectively halts the loss of radiogenic Pb from zircon. Both the redistribution and phase separation of radiogenic Pb in this manner can compromise the precision and accuracy of U-Pb ages obtained by high spatial resolution methods.

Concepts: Electron, Uranium, Solid, Lead, Hafnium, Radiometric dating, Zircon, Uranium-lead dating


Metal-organic frameworks based on zirconium or hafnium possess tantalizing commercial prospects due to their high stability but require a long reaction time to form crystals. The fast synthesis of uniform Zr-, Hf-MOF nanocrystals at scale is of key importance in the potential commercial application of MOFs. In this work, we have developed a versatile strategy through controlling the hydrolysis and nucleation of metal salts in the presence of acetic acid and water; up to 24 grams of UiO-66-NH2 nanocrystals with a uniform octahedron could be synthesized within 15 minutes using a one step method. The current synthetic strategy could be extended to other Zr-, Hf-MOF nanocrystals [UiO-66-Fast, UiO-66-(OH)2-Fast, UiO-66-2,6-NDC-Fast, UiO-67-Fast, BUT-12-Fast, PCN-222-Ni-Fast, PCN-222-Co-Fast, Hf-UiO-66-Fast, Hf-UiO-66-NH2-Fast, Hf-UiO-66-(OH)2-Fast, Hf-UiO-66-2,6-NDC-Fast and Hf-BUT-12-Fast]. Significantly, when noble metal nanoparticles (NPs) are introduced into MOF precursors, NPs encapsulated in MOFs with excellent dispersion have also been obtained and show outstanding performance in catalysis. This facile procedure is expected to pave the way to expand the commercial applications of MOFs.

Concepts: Oxygen, Water, Acid dissociation constant, Iridium, Zirconium, Hafnium, Acetate, Zircon