A craton ( // , // , or // ; from Greek : κράτοςkratos "strength") is an old and stable part of the continental lithosphere, where the lithosphere consists of the Earth's two topmost layers, the crust and the uppermost mantle. Having often survived cycles of merging and rifting of continents, cratons are generally found in the interiors of tectonic plates. They are characteristically composed of ancient crystalline basement rock, which may be covered by younger sedimentary rock. They have a thick crust and deep lithospheric roots that extend as much as several hundred kilometres into the Earth's mantle.
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.
In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet, dwarf planet, or natural satellite. It is usually distinguished from the underlying mantle by its chemical makeup; however, in the case of icy satellites, it may be distinguished based on its phase.
A mantle is a layer inside a planetary body bounded below by a core and above by a crust. Mantles are made of rock or ices, and are generally the largest and most massive layer of the planetary body. Mantles are characteristic of planetary bodies that have undergone differentiation by density. All terrestrial planets, a number of asteroids, and some planetary moons have mantles.
The term craton is used to distinguish the stable portion of the continental crust from regions that are more geologically active and unstable. Cratons can be described as shields, in which the basement rock crops out at the surface, and platforms, in which the basement is overlaid by sediments and sedimentary rock.
Continental crust is the layer of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks that forms the continents and the areas of shallow seabed close to their shores, known as continental shelves. This layer is sometimes called sial because its bulk composition is richer in silicates and aluminium minerals and has a lower density compared to the oceanic crust, called sima which is richer in magnesium silicate minerals and is denser. Changes in seismic wave velocities have shown that at a certain depth, there is a reasonably sharp contrast between the more felsic upper continental crust and the lower continental crust, which is more mafic in character.
A shield is generally a large area of exposed Precambrian crystalline igneous and high-grade metamorphic rocks that form tectonically stable areas. In all cases, the age of these rocks is greater than 570 million years and sometimes dates back 2 to 3.5 billion years. They have been little affected by tectonic events following the end of the Precambrian, and are relatively flat regions where mountain building, faulting, and other tectonic processes are greatly diminished compared with the activity that occurs at the margins of the shields and the boundaries between tectonic plates.
In geology, a platform is a continental area covered by relatively flat or gently tilted, mainly sedimentary strata, which overlie a basement of consolidated igneous or metamorphic rocks of an earlier deformation. Platforms, shields and the basement rocks together constitute cratons. Platform sediments can be classified into the following groups: a "protoplatform" of metamorphosed sediments at the bottom, a "quasiplatform" of slightly deformed sediments, a "cataplatform", and a "orthoplatform" at the top. The Mesoproterozoic Jotnian sediments of the Baltic area are examples of a "quasiplatform". The post-Ordovician rocks of the South American Platform are examples of an orthoplatform.
The word craton was first proposed by the Austrian geologist Leopold Kober in 1921 as Kratogen, referring to stable continental platforms, and orogen as a term for mountain or orogenic belts. Later Hans Stille shortened the former term to kraton from which craton derives.
Leopold Kober, an influential Austrian geologist, proposed a number of theories of orogeny and coined the term kratogen to describe stable continental crust, later this term was shortened to kraton by Hans Stille. Kober, developing geosyncline theory, posited that stable blocks known as forelands move toward each other, forcing the sediments of the intervening geosynclinal region to move over the forelands, forming marginal mountain ranges known as Randketten, while leaving an intervening median mass known as the Zwischengebirge.
A mountain is a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally steeper than a hill. Mountains are formed through tectonic forces or volcanism. These forces can locally raise the surface of the earth. Mountains erode slowly through the action of rivers, weather conditions, and glaciers. A few mountains are isolated summits, but most occur in huge mountain ranges.
Hans Wilhelm Stille was an influential German geologist working primarily on tectonics and the collation of tectonic events during the Phanerozoic. Stille adhered to the contracting Earth hypothesis and together with Leopold Kober he worked on the geosyncline theory to explain orogeny. Stille's ideas emerged in the aftermath of Eduard Suess' book Das Antlitz der Erde (1883–1909). Stille's and Kober's school of thought was one of two that emerged in the post-Suess era the other being headed by Alfred Wegener and Émile Argand. This competing view rejected Earth contraction and argued for continental drift. As Stille opposed continental drift he came to be labelled a "fixist".
Examples of cratons are the North China Craton, the Sarmatian Craton in Russia and Ukraine, the Amazonia Craton in South America, the Kaapvaal Craton in South Africa, the North American or Laurentia Craton, and the Gawler Craton in South Australia.
The North China Craton is a continental crustal block with one of Earth's most complete and complex record of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic processes. It is located in northeast China, Inner Mongolia, the Yellow Sea, and North Korea. The term craton designates this as a piece of continent that is stable, buoyant and rigid. Basic properties of the cratonic crust include being thick, relatively cold when compared to other regions, and low density. The North China Craton is an ancient craton, which experienced a long period of stability and fitted the definition of a craton well. However, the North China Craton later experienced destruction of some of its deeper parts (decratonization), which means that this piece of continent is no longer as stable.
The Sarmatian Craton or Sarmatia is the southern segment/region of the East European Craton or Baltica, also known as Scythian Plateau. The craton contains Archaean rocks 2.8 to 3.7 billion years old. During the Carboniferous the craton was rifted apart by the Dneiper-Donets rift. As a result, geomorphologically the cratonic area is split by the Donbass Fold Belt, also known as a part of the large Pripyat-Dniepr-Donets aulacogen, which transects Sarmatia, dividing it into the Ukrainian Massif or shield on the southwest and the Voronezh Massif to the northeast.
Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, excluding Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is the largest metropolitan area in Europe proper and one of the largest cities in the world; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.
Cratons have thick lithospheric roots. Mantle tomography shows that cratons are underlain by anomalously cold mantle corresponding to lithosphere more than twice the typical 100 km (60 mi) thickness of mature oceanic or non-cratonic, continental lithosphere. At that depth, craton roots extend into the asthenosphere. Craton lithosphere is distinctly different from oceanic lithosphere because cratons have a neutral or positive buoyancy, and a low intrinsic isopycnic density. This low density offsets density increases due to geothermal contraction and prevents the craton from sinking into the deep mantle. Cratonic lithosphere is much older than oceanic lithosphere—up to 4 billion years versus 180 million years.
Seismic tomography is a technique for imaging the subsurface of the Earth with seismic waves produced by earthquakes or explosions. P-, S-, and surface waves can be used for tomographic models of different resolutions based on seismic wavelength, wave source distance, and the seismograph array coverage. The data received at seismometers are used to solve an inverse problem, wherein the locations of reflection and refraction of the wave paths are determined. This solution can be used to create 3D images of velocity anomalies which may be interpreted as structural, thermal, or compositional variations. Geoscientists use these images to better understand core, mantle, and plate tectonic processes.
A lithosphere is the rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet, or natural satellite, that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties. On Earth, it is composed of the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater. The outermost shell of a rocky planet, the crust, is defined on the basis of its chemistry and mineralogy.
The asthenosphere is the highly viscous, mechanically weak and ductilely deforming region of the upper mantle of the Earth. It lies below the lithosphere, at depths between approximately 80 and 200 km below the surface. The Lithosphere-Asthenosphere boundary is usually referred to as LAB. The asthenosphere is almost solid, although some of its regions could be molten. The lower boundary of the asthenosphere is not well defined. The thickness of the asthenosphere depends mainly on the temperature. However, the rheology of the asthenosphere also depends on the rate of deformation, which suggests that the asthenosphere could be also formed as a result of a high rate of deformation. In some regions the asthenosphere could extend as deep as 700 km (430 mi). It is considered the source region of mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB).
Rock fragments (xenoliths) carried up from the mantle by magmas containing peridotite have been delivered to the surface as inclusions in subvolcanic pipes called kimberlites. These inclusions have densities consistent with craton composition and are composed of mantle material residual from high degrees of partial melt. Peridotite is strongly influenced by the inclusion of moisture. Craton peridotite moisture content is unusually low, which leads to much greater strength. It also contains high percentages of low-weight magnesium instead of higher-weight calcium and iron.Peridotites are important for understanding the deep composition and origin of cratons because peridotite nodules are pieces of mantle rock modified by partial melting. Harzburgite peridotites represent the crystalline residues after extraction of melts of compositions like basalt and komatiite.
Peridotite is a dense, coarse-grained igneous rock consisting mostly of the minerals olivine and pyroxene. Peridotite is ultramafic, as the rock contains less than 45% silica (SiO4−
4). It is high in magnesium (Mg2+), reflecting the high proportions of magnesium-rich olivine, with appreciable iron. Peridotite is derived from the Earth's mantle, either as solid blocks and fragments, or as crystals accumulated from magmas that formed in the mantle. The compositions of peridotites from these layered igneous complexes vary widely, reflecting the relative proportions of pyroxenes, chromite, plagioclase, and amphibole.
In mineralogy, an inclusion is any material that is trapped inside a mineral during its formation.
A subvolcanic rock, also known as a hypabyssal rock, is an intrusive igneous rock that is emplaced at medium to shallow depths within the crust, and has intermediate grain size and often porphyritic texture between that of volcanic and plutonic rocks. Subvolcanic rocks include diabase and porphyry. Common examples of subvolcanic rocks are diabase, quartz-dolerite, micro-granite and diorite.
The process by which cratons were formed from early rock is called cratonization. The first large cratonic landmasses formed during the Archean eon. During the early Archean, Earth's heat flow was nearly three times higher than it is today because of the greater concentration of radioactive isotopes and the residual heat from the Earth's accretion. There was considerably greater tectonic and volcanic activity; the mantle was less viscous and the crust thinner. This resulted in rapid formation of oceanic crust at ridges and hot spots, and rapid recycling of oceanic crust at subduction zones. There are at least three hypotheses of how cratons have been formed: 1) surface crust was thickened by a rising plume of deep molten material, 2) successive subducting plates of oceanic lithosphere became lodged beneath a proto-craton in an under-plating process, 3) accretion from island arcs or continental fragments rafting together to thicken into a craton.
Earth's surface was probably broken up into many small plates with volcanic islands and arcs in great abundance. Small protocontinents (cratons) formed as crustal rock was melted and remelted by hot spots and recycled in subduction zones.
There were no large continents in the early Archean, and small protocontinents were probably the norm in the Mesoarchean because they were prevented from coalescing into larger units by the high rate of geologic activity. These felsic protocontinents (cratons) probably formed at hot spots from a variety of sources: mafic magma melting more felsic rocks, partial melting of mafic rock, and from the metamorphic alteration of felsic sedimentary rocks. Although the first continents formed during the Archean, rock of this age makes up only 7% of the world's current cratons; even allowing for erosion and destruction of past formations, evidence suggests that only 5 to 40 percent of the present continental crust formed during the Archean.
One perspective of how the cratonization process might have first begun in the Archean is given by Warren B. Hamilton:
Very thick sections of mostly submarine mafic, and subordinate ultramafic, volcanic rocks, and mostly younger subaerial and submarine felsic volcanic rocks and sediments were oppressed into complex synforms between rising young domiform felsic batholiths mobilized by hydrous partial melting in the lower crust. Upper-crust granite-and-greenstone terrains underwent moderate regional shortening, decoupled from the lower crust, during compositional inversion accompanying doming, but cratonization soon followed. Tonalitic basement is preserved beneath some greenstone sections but supracrustal rocks commonly give way downward to correlative or younger plutonic rocks... Mantle plumes probably did not yet exist, and developing continents were concentrated in cool regions. Hot-region upper mantle was partly molten, and voluminous magmas, mostly ultramafic, erupted through many ephemeral submarine vents and rifts focussed at the thinnest crust.... Surviving Archean crust is from regions of cooler, and more depleted, mantle, wherein greater stability permitted uncommonly thick volcanic accumulations from which voluminous partial-melt, low-density felsic rocks could be generated.
The long-term erosion of cratons has been labelled the "cratonic regime". It involves processes of pediplanation and etchplanation that lead to the formation of flattish surfaces known as peneplains.While the process of etchplanation is associated to humid climate and pediplanation with arid and semi-arid climate, shifting climate over geological time leads to the formation of so-called polygenetic peneplains of mixed origin. Another result of the longevity of cratons is that they may alternate between periods of high and low relative sea levels. High relative sea level leads to increased oceanicity, while the opposite leads to increased inland conditions.
Many cratons have had subdued topographies since Precambrian times. For example, the Yilgarn Craton of Western Australia was flattish already by Middle Proterozoic timesand the Baltic Shield had been eroded into a subdued terrain already during the Late Mesoproterozoic when the rapakivi granites intruded.
Magma is the molten or semi-molten natural material from which all igneous rocks are formed. Magma is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and evidence of magmatism has also been discovered on other terrestrial planets and some natural satellites. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and gas bubbles. Magma is produced by melting of the mantle and/or the crust at various tectonic settings, including subduction zones, continental rift zones, mid-ocean ridges and hotspots. Mantle and crustal melts migrate upwards through the crust where they are thought to be stored in magma chambers or trans-crustal crystal-rich mush zones. During their storage in the crust, magma compositions may be modified by fractional crystallization, contamination with crustal melts, magma mixing, and degassing. Following their ascent through the crust, magmas may feed a volcano or solidify underground to form an intrusion. While the study of magma has historically relied on observing magma in the form of lava flows, magma has been encountered in situ three times during geothermal drilling projects—twice in Iceland, and once in Hawaii.
Andesite ( or ) is an extrusive igneous, volcanic rock, of intermediate composition, with aphanitic to porphyritic texture. In a general sense, it is the intermediate type between basalt and rhyolite, and ranges from 57 to 63% silicon dioxide (SiO2) as illustrated in TAS diagrams. The mineral assemblage is typically dominated by plagioclase plus pyroxene or hornblende. Magnetite, zircon, apatite, ilmenite, biotite, and garnet are common accessory minerals. Alkali feldspar may be present in minor amounts. The quartz-feldspar abundances in andesite and other volcanic rocks are illustrated in QAPF diagrams.
Greenstone belts are zones of variably metamorphosed mafic to ultramafic volcanic sequences with associated sedimentary rocks that occur within Archaean and Proterozoic cratons between granite and gneiss bodies.
Eclogite is a mafic metamorphic rock. Eclogite forms at pressures greater than those typical of the crust of the Earth. An unusually dense rock, eclogite can play an important role in driving convection within the solid Earth.
The rock cycle is a basic concept in geology that describes the time-consuming transitions through geologic time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. As the adjacent diagram illustrates, each of the types of rocks is altered or destroyed when it is forced out of its equilibrium conditions. An igneous rock such as basalt may break down and dissolve when exposed to the atmosphere, or melt as it is subducted under a continent. Due to the driving forces of the rock cycle, plate tectonics and the water cycle, rocks do not remain in equilibrium and are forced to change as they encounter new environments. The rock cycle is an illustration that explains how the three rock types are related to each other, and how processes change from one type to another over time. This cyclical aspect makes rock change a geologic cycle and, on planets containing life, a biogeochemical cycle.
Harzburgite, an ultramafic, igneous rock, is a variety of peridotite consisting mostly of the two minerals, olivine and low-calcium (Ca) pyroxene (enstatite); it is named for occurrences in the Harz Mountains of Germany. It commonly contains a few percent chromium-rich spinel as an accessory mineral. Garnet-bearing harzburgite is much less common, found most commonly as xenoliths in kimberlite.
Partial melting occurs when only a portion of a solid is melted. For mixed substances, such as a rock containing several different minerals or a mineral that displays solid solution, this melt can be different from the bulk composition of the solid.
Igneous rock, or magmatic rock, is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. The magma can be derived from partial melts of existing rocks in either a planet's mantle or crust. Typically, the melting is caused by one or more of three processes: an increase in temperature, a decrease in pressure, or a change in composition. Solidification into rock occurs either below the surface as intrusive rocks or on the surface as extrusive rocks. Igneous rock may form with crystallization to form granular, crystalline rocks, or without crystallization to form natural glasses. Igneous rocks occur in a wide range of geological settings: shields, platforms, orogens, basins, large igneous provinces, extended crust and oceanic crust.
The Barberton greenstone belt (BGB) is located in the Kapvaal craton of southeastern Africa. It characterizes one of the most well-preserved and oldest pieces of continental crust today by containing rocks in the Barberton Granite Greenstone Terrain (3.55–3.22 Ga). The BGB is a small, cusp-shaped succession of volcanic and sedimentary rocks, surrounded on all sides by granitoid plutons which range in age from >3547 to <3225 Ma. It is commonly known as the type locality of the ultramafic, extrusive volcanic rock, the komatiite. Greenstone belts are geologic regions generally composed of mafic to ultramafic volcanic sequences that have undergone metamorphism. These belts are associated with sedimentary rocks that occur within Archean and Proterozoic cratons between granitic bodies. Their name is derived from the green hue that comes from the metamorphic minerals associated with the mafic rocks. These regions are theorized to have formed at ancient oceanic spreading centers and island arcs. In simple terms, greenstone belts are described as metamorphosed volcanic belts. Being one of the few most well-preserved Archean portions of the crust, with Archean felsic volcanic rocks, the BGB is well studied. It provides present geologic evidence of Earth during the Archean (pre-3.0 Ga). Despite the BGB being a well studied area, its tectonic evolution has been the cause of much debate.
Archean subduction is a contentious topic involving the possible existence and nature of subduction in the Archean, a geologic eon extending from 4.0-2.5 billion years ago. Until recently there was little evidence unequivocally supporting one side over the other, and in the past many scientists either believed in shallow subduction or its complete non-existence. However, the past decade has witnessed the potential beginning of a change in geologic understanding as new evidence is increasingly indicative of episodic, non-shallow subduction.
The Eastern Pilbara Craton is the eastern portion of the Pilbara Craton located in Western Australia. This region contains variably metamorphosed mafic and ultramafic greenstone belt rocks, intrusive granitic dome structures, and volcanic sedimentary rocks. These greenstone belts worldwide are thought to be the remnants of ancient volcanic belts, and are subject to much debate in today's scientific community. Areas such as Isua and Barberton which have similar lithologies and ages as Pilbara have been argued to be subduction accretion arcs, while others suggest that they are the result of vertical tectonics. This debate is crucial to investigating when/how plate tectonics began on Earth. The Pilbara Craton along with the Kaapvaal Craton are the only remaining areas of the Earth with pristine 3.6–2.5 Ga crust. The extremely old and rare nature of this crustal region makes it a valuable resource in the understanding of the evolution of the Archean Earth.
A continental arc is a type of volcanic arc occurring as an "arc-shape" topographic high region along a continental margin. The continental arc is formed at an active continental margin where two tectonic plates meet, and where one plate has continental crust and the other oceanic crust along the line of plate convergence, and a subduction zone develops. The magmatism and petrogenesis of continental crust are complicated: in essence, continental arcs reflect a mixture of oceanic crust materials, mantle wedge and continental crust materials.
Huangling Complex represents a group of rock units appear in the middle of Yangtze Block in South China, distributed across Yixingshan, Zigui, Huangling and Yichang counties. The group of rock involves nonconformity that sedimentary rocks overlie the metamorphic basement. It is a 73-km long, asymmetrical dome-shaped anticline with axial plane orientating in north-south direction. It has a steeper west flank and a gentler east flank. Basically, there are three tectonic units from the anticline core to the rim, including Archean to Paleoproterozoic metamorphic basement, Neoproterozoic to Jurassic sedimentary rocks and Cretaceous fluvial deposit sedimentary cover. The northern part of the core is mainly tonalite-trondhjemite-gneiss (TTG) and Cretaceous sedimentary rock, it is called the Archean Kongling Complex. The middle of the core is mainly the Neoproterozoic granitoid. The southern part of the core is the Neoproterozoic potassium granite. Two basins are situated on the western and eastern flanks of the core respectively, including the Zigui basin and Dangyang basin. Both basins are synforms while Zigui basin has a larger extent of folding. Yuanan Graben and Jingmen Graben are found within Dangyang Basin area. Huangling Complex is an important area that helps unravel the tectonic history of South China Craton because it has well-exposed layers of rock units from Archean basement rock to Cretaceous sedimentary rock cover due to the erosion of the anticline.
The subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM) is the uppermost solid part of Earth's mantle associated with the continental lithosphere.
Tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite rocks or TTG rocks are intrusive rocks with typical granitic composition but containing only a small portion of potassium feldspar. Tonalite, trondhjemite, and granodiorite often occur together in geological records, indicating similar petrogenetic processes. Post Archean TTG rocks are present in arc-related batholiths, as well as in ophiolites, while Archean TTG rocks are major components of Archean cratons.
Archean felsic volcanic rocks are felsic volcanic rocks that were formed in the Archean Eon. The term "felsic" means that the rocks have silica content of 62–78%. Given that the Earth formed at ~4.5 billion year ago, Archean felsic volcanic rocks provide clues on the Earth's first volcanic activities on the Earth's surface started 500 million years after the Earth's formation.
Earth's crustal evolution involves the formation, destruction and renewal of the rocky outer shell at that planet's surface.
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