Refinement of the supercontinent cycle with Hf, Nd and Sr isotopes

Kent C. Condie*, Richard C. Aster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


The combined use of Hf, Nd and Sr isotopes is more useful in understanding the supercontinent cycle than the use of only Hf isotopic data from detrital zircons. Sr and Nd seawater isotopes, although not as precise as É"Nd and É"Hf distributions, also record input from ocean ridge systems. Unlike detrital zircons where sources cannot be precisely located because of crustal recycling, both the location and tectonic setting often can be constrained for whole-rock Nd isotopic data. Furthermore, primary zircon sources may not reside on the same continent as derivative detrital zircons due to supercontinent breakup and assembly. Common to all of the isotopic studies are geographic sampling biases reflecting outcrop distributions, river system sampling, or geologists, and these may be responsible for most of the decorrelation observed between isotopic systems. Distributions between 3.5 and 2 Ga based on É"Hf median values of four detrital zircon databases as well as our compiled É"Nd database are noisy but uniformly distributed in time, whereas data between 2 and 1 Ga data are more tightly clustered with smaller variations. Grouped age peaks suggest that both isotopic systems are sampling similar types of orogens. Only after 1 Ga and before 3.5 Ga do we see wide variations and significant disagreement between databases, which may partially reflect variations in both the number of sample locations and the number of samples per location. External and internal orogens show similar patterns in É"Nd and É"Hf with age suggesting that both juvenile and reworked crustal components are produced in both types of orogens with similar proportions. However, both types of orogens clearly produce more juvenile isotopic signatures in retreating mode than in advancing mode. Many secular changes in É"Hf and É"Nd distributions correlate with the supercontinent cycle. Although supercontinent breakup is correlated with short-lived decreasing É"Hf and É"Nd (≤100 Myr) for most supercontinents, there is no isotopic evidence for the breakup of the Paleoproterozoic supercontinent Nuna. Assembly of supercontinents by extroversion is recorded by decreasing É"Nd in granitoids and metasediments and decreasing É"Hf in zircons, attesting to the role of crustal reworking in external orogens in advancing mode. As expected, seawater Sr isotopes increase and seawater Nd isotopes decrease during supercontinent assembly by extroversion. Pangea is the only supercontinent that has a clear isotopic record of introversion assembly, during which median É"Nd and É"Hf rise rapidly for ≤100 Myr. Although expected to increase, radiogenic seawater Sr decreases (and seawater Nd increases) during assembly of Pangea, a feature that may be caused by juvenile input into the oceans from new ocean ridges and external orogens in retreating mode. The fact that a probable onset of plate tectonics around 3 Ga is not recorded in isotopic distributions may be due the existence of widespread felsic crust formed prior to the onset of plate tectonics in a stagnant lid tectonic regime, as supported by Nd and Hf model ages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-680
Number of pages14
JournalGeoscience Frontiers
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Accretionary orogens
  • Collisional orogens
  • Hf isotopes
  • Nd isotopes
  • Supercontinent cycle


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