The building blocks of continental crust: Evidence for a major change in the tectonic setting of continental growth at the end of the Archean

Kent C. Condie*, Alfred Kröner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

282 Citations (Scopus)


Oceanic arcs are commonly cited as primary building blocks of continents, yet modern oceanic arcs are mostly subducted. Also, lithosphere buoyancy considerations show that oceanic arcs (even those with a felsic component) should readily subduct. With the exception of the Arabian-Nubian orogen, terranes in post-Archean accretionary orogens comprise < 10% of accreted oceanic arcs, whereas continental arcs compose 40-80% of these orogens. Nd and Hf isotopic data suggest that accretionary orogens include 40-65% juvenile crustal components, with most of these (> 50%) produced in continental arcs. Felsic igneous rocks in oceanic arcs are depleted in incompatible elements compared to average continental crust and to felsic igneous rocks from continental arcs. They have lower Th/Yb, Nb/Yb, Sr/Y and La/Yb ratios, reflecting shallow mantle sources in which garnet did not exist in the restite during melting. The bottom line of these geochemical differences is that post-Archean continental crust does not begin life in oceanic arcs. On the other hand, the remarkable similarity of incompatible element distributions in granitoids and felsic volcanics from continental arcs is consistent with continental crust being produced in continental arcs. During the Archean, however, oceanic arcs may have been thicker due to higher degrees of melting in the mantle, and oceanic lithosphere would be more buoyant. These arcs may have accreted to each other and to oceanic plateaus, a process that eventually led to the production of Archean continental crust. After the Archean, oceanic crust was thinner due to cooling of the mantle and less melt production at ocean ridges, hence, oceanic lithosphere is more subductable. Widespread propagation of plate tectonics in the late Archean may have led not only to rapid production of continental crust, but to a change in the primary site of production of continental crust, from accreted oceanic arcs and oceanic plateaus in the Archean to primarily continental arcs thereafter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-402
Number of pages9
JournalGondwana Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Arc accretion
  • Continental crust production
  • Continental growth
  • Oceanic arcs


Dive into the research topics of 'The building blocks of continental crust: Evidence for a major change in the tectonic setting of continental growth at the end of the Archean'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this