Growth of continental crust: a balance between preservation and recycling

K. C. Condie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


One of the major obstacles to our understanding of the growth of continental crust is that of estimating the balance between extraction rate of continental crust from the mantle and its recycling rate back into the mantle. As a first step it is important to learn more about how and when juvenile crust is preserved in orogens. The most abundant petrotectonic assemblage preserved in orogens (both collisional and accretionary) is the continental arc, whereas oceanic terranes (arcs, crust, mélange, Large Igneous Provinces, etc.) comprise <10%; the remainder comprises older, reworked crust. Most of the juvenile crust in orogens is found in continental arc assemblages. Our studies indicate that most juvenile crust preserved in orogens was produced during the ocean-basin closing stage and not during the collision. However, the duration of ocean-basin closing is not a major control on the fraction of juvenile crust preserved in orogens; regardless of the duration of subduction, the fraction of juvenile crust preserved reaches a maximum of ∼50%. Hafnium and Nd isotopic data indicate that reworking dominates in external orogens during supercontinent breakup, whereas during supercontinent assembly, external orogens change to retreating modes where greater amounts of juvenile crust are produced. The most remarkable feature of εNd (sedimentary rocks and granitoids) and εHf (detrital zircons) distributions through time is how well they agree with each other. The ratio of positive to negative εNd and εHf does not increase during supercontinent assembly (coincident with zircon age peaks), which suggests that supercontinent assembly is not accompanied by enhanced crustal production. Rather, the zircon age peaks probably result from enhanced preservation of juvenile crust. Valleys between zircon age peaks probably reflect recycling of continental crust into the mantle during supercontinent breakup. Hafnium isotopic data from zircons that have mantle sources, Nd isotopic data from detrital sedimentary rocks and granitoids and whole-rock Re depletion ages of mantle xenoliths collectively suggest that ≥70% of the continental crust was extracted from the mantle between 3500 and 2500 Ma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-637
Number of pages15
JournalMineralogical Magazine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Continental growth
  • Crustal reworking
  • Hf isotopes
  • Nd isotopes
  • Supercontinents


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