The continental lithosphere is not forever; some cratons have lost their original roots during the course of their evolution. Yet, it is not clear whether gravitational instability of dense lower crust is the primary driver of decratonization. This is addressed here with emphasis being placed on the North China Craton (NCC), because it represents one of the best examples of craton-root disruption in the world, and a place where models can be tested. If lower-crustal delamination was the trigger for decratonization, we would expect a clear contrast in crustal structure and composition between disturbed (rootless) and intact cratons. However, the eastern (disturbed) and western (intact) parts of the NCC show virtually identical physical structure and composition (a thin mafic lower crust and a predominantly intermediate composition overall) although the crust in the disturbed part is thinner than in the intact craton. This suggests that delamination of the lower crust was not a viable mechanism of craton-root disruption in the NCC case. Indeed, the crust beneath the NCC largely resembles those of stable Archean cratons worldwide. Therefore the delamination, if it occurred, may have taken place much earlier (Archean) than previously thought, rather than in the Mesozoic. Delamination may have been a common phenomenon in the early evolution of cratons, probably due to relatively higher mantle temperatures in the Archean Eon.
- Lower-crust delamination
- North China craton