Continental accretion: contrasting Mesozoic and Early Proterozoic tectonic regimes in North America

Kent C. Condie*, Beverly Chomiak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Juvenile continental crust was accreted to southern and western North America during the Early Proterozoic and Mesozoic, respectively. Graywacke, granite, granodiorite, and basalt comprise most of the accreted Early Proterozoic crust, whereas graywacke, andesite, basalt, and granodiorite comprise most of the Mesozoic crust. In addition, carbonates, ultramafics, pelagic sediments, and tonalite/diorite are minor but important components in the juvenile Mesozoic crust, whereas rhyolites are important in the Early Proterozoic crust. Mesozoic supracrustal rocks vary significantly in chemical composition, while Early Proterozoic supracrustals have a limited compositional range and exhibit a linear relation between many element concentrations suggesting a genetic linkage between accreted terranes. Although SiO2, Al2O3, FeO, and incompatible elements are more enriched in Early Proterozoic than in Mesozoic supracrustal rocks, negative Eu anomalies are typical of rocks of both ages. Early Proterozoic granitoids are enriched in LILE (large ion lithophile elements) compared to Mesozoic granitoids, and granitoids of both ages of are enriched in LILE and have larger Eu anomalies than associated supracrustal rocks. Accreted Mesozoic upper crust is similar to andesite in chemical composition, and the bulk crust is similar to basaltic andesite. In contrast, accreted Early Proterozoic upper crust and bulk crust are similar to granodiorite and ansite, respectively. Incompatible elements are depleted in the Mesozoic compared to the Early Proterozoic crust, but both crustal types have negative Nb-Ta anomalies. Depending on the composition assumed for the lower crust, both ages of crust have either very small or negligible Eu anomalies. Lifespans of the Early Proterozoic terranes (time interval between oldest rocks in a terrane and its collision with North America) are 20-80 My, whereas lifespans of Mesozoic terranes are 50-500 My, with most falling between 50 and 200 My. Within Mesozoic terranes, tectonic setting may differ, whereas in most Early Proterozoic terranes tectonic setting appears to have remained the same. Unlike the Mesozoic terranes, which were fragmented during collision and displaced along transcurrent faults, Early Proterozoic terranes show no evidence of major transcurrent offset. Using accretion age windows of 120 My for the Mesozoic and 115 My for the Early Proterozoic, we obtain total crustal accretion rates of 1.33 km3/y and 1.73 km3/y, respectively, for 6000 km of strike length in each case. Early Proterozoic crustal accretion in southwestern North America was strikingly different from that in northwestern North America during the Mesozoic. Mesozoic accretion involves transformation of mafic oceanic terranes into continental crust. In contrast, most of the juvenile Early Proterozoic crust appears to have evolved directly into mature continental crust without passing through an 'oceanic' stage. This probably occurred in a continental margin arc system. Our results also indicate that oceanic terranes cannot evolve into continental crust as closed chemical systems. Although some Mesozoic oceanic terranes began to evolve into continental crust before accretion to North America, most of the transition occurred during and shortly after accretion. This may have been accomplished by incompatible element enrichment associated with subduction-related processes beneath collisionally thickened crust. The accreted Mesozoic crust has not yet evolved into mature continental crust and whether it will depends on the duration of subduction processes along the continental margin in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-126
Number of pages26
Issue number1-2 SPEC. ISS.
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • American Cordillera
  • Continental accretion
  • Crustal evolution
  • Proterozoic crust
  • Terranes


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