Isotopic evidence for rapid continental growth in an extensional accretionary orogen: The Tasmanides, eastern Australia

A. I S Kemp*, C. J. Hawkesworth, W. J. Collins, C. M. Gray, P. L. Blevin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

416 Citations (Scopus)


The trace element signature of Earth's continental crust resembles that of arc lavas, but the continents may have formed during ancient igneous pulses that are hard to reconcile with supra-subduction zone magmatism. We explore the role of coupled arc-back-arc accretionary processes in crust generation by considering the tectonic context of whole rock Nd isotope and zircon Hf-O isotope data from igneous rocks of the Australian Tasmanides (515-230 Ma), which is thought to have evolved by the repeated opening and closure of sediment-filled back-arc basins behind a long-lived subduction zone. The significance of this process for continental crust formation has yet to be evaluated from an isotopic perspective. Granitic rocks in this area define striking secular εNdHf18O trends that correlate with the pattern of deformational events and register changes in magma source during tectonic activity. These trends reveal that juvenile magmatic input was enhanced during extensional, back-arc rifting episodes that immediately followed crustal thickening, suggesting a relationship between slab rollback and continental growth. Interaction between juvenile magma and sedimentary units deposited during a preceding back-arc rifting cycle was integral to the formation of stable continental material. This highlights the importance of back-arc environments for both the generation and differentiation of continental crust. The juvenile component within the Tasmanide igneous rocks increased from the Cambrian to the Triassic, consistent with a diminished input from craton-derived metasedimentary material as the subduction zone migrated outboard of the Gondwana margin. Subduction zone retreat formed large tracts of new crust in eastern Australia at comparable rates to crust generation at modern island arcs, providing a mechanism for rapid continental growth at convergent margins. Using isotopic tracers to link tectonic evolution and crust generation in modern and ancient orogens can lead to a better understanding of the geodynamic controls on planetary differentiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-466
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • continental growth
  • granite
  • Hf isotopes
  • Nd isotopes
  • Tasmanides
  • tectonics


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