GEOL599: Plate tectonics over time University of Southern California

Fall 2006

Times: Mon 9-10am; Thu, 2 – 4pm, Location: ZHS268

Instructor: Thorsten Becker & members of the faculty

ZHS269; (213)740-8365; twb -at-

Geological, geophysical, and geochemical constraints for the thermal evolution of the Earth are discussed with particular focus on issues regarding the emergence, style and continuity of plate-tectonics over the last four billion years. Specific questions to be addressed include: When did plate tectonics start? What are geological indicators for plate and alternative styles of convection? What constraints are there for continental growth curves and temperatures in different parts of the mantle system? Is mantle convection episodic in nature, and which parts of the mantle system determine secular cooling? The goals of this class are to gain a better understanding of the relative robustness of geological constraints and how we can formulate integrated models to resolve open questions.

The class targets graduate students from all Earth science fields and will include reading and in-class discussion of the recent literature and classic papers. We will have lectures from members of the faculty and outside speakers. Computer exercises on parameterized convection will be conducted, and students are expected to work on a term paper. The latter can be a research project (preferred), or an in depth review of a subject area in the form of a Wikipedia entry. The grade will be based 40% on the final project, 40% on student presentations and homework projects, and 20% on student participation.


Monday 9 – 10am

Thursday 2- 4 pm

Reading assignment

Week 1: 08/21

Organizational meeting

Week 2: 08/28

Reading assignments

Reading assignments

Week 3: 09/04

Labor day (no meeting)

Student presentations.


Week 4: 09/11

SCEC (no meeting)

Becker: Fundamentals of mantle convection

Geodynamics I

Week 5: 09/18

Platt (USC): Geological timescales

Anderson, Davis (USC): super-continents and petrology

Geology I

Week 6: 09/25

Dave Stevenson (Caltech): On tectonics and planets.

Class discussion

Planets I

Week 7: 10/02

Group paper discussion

Student presentations

Geodynamics II

Week 8: 10/09

Columbus day (no meeting)

Project work on parameterized convection

Week 9: 10/16

Class discussion

Steve Lund (USC): Constraints on dynamics from paleomagnetism


Week 10: 10/23

Group paper discussion

Student presentations

Core & True polar wander

Week 11: 10/30

Group paper discussion

Student presentations

Geodynamics III

Week 12: 11/06

Student presentations

Student presentations

Geology II/Geochemistry

Week 13: 11/13

Project proposal presentations

Project proposal presentations

Week 14: 11/20

Class discussion

Thanksgiving (no meeting)

Week 15: 11/30:

Becker: Reassessment of evolutionary models

Class discussion.

Week 16: 12/04

Presentations of term papers

Presentations of term paper

Week 17: 12/14

AGU (no meeting)

AGU (no meeting)

Link to groups, class list, and emails

Link to lecture notes and slides

Link to course Wiki - Glossary of terms

Reading list (P: for student presentations, D: discussion material for background reading)

Intro (P)

Witze (2006), Stern (2005), Cawood et al. (2006), Condie & Benn (2006), Jaupart et al. (submitted)

Geodynamics I: Basics (P)

Davies (1992); Solomatov (1995), Sleep (2000, submitted); Stevenson (2003)

Geodynamics II: Parameterized convection (P)

Christensen (1985). McNamara & van Keken (2002), Korenaga (2006), Labrosse & Jaupart (2006). Lenardic et al. (2005)

Geodynamics III: Time-dependent models (P)

Hoffman & Ranalli (1988); Grigne et al. (2005), van Hunen et al. (in press), Davies (2006), van Thienen et al. (2004, 2005); Tackley et al. (2005)

Geology I (D)

de Wit (1998); Abbott et al. (1994); Arndt (2003); Grove & Parman (2004), Brown (2006b), Kondie (2000)

Geology II (P)

Moyen (2006), {Kusky et al. (2001), Zhai et al. (2002)}, Moores (2002), Smithies et al. (2006)

Planets (D)

Tozer (1972), Sleep (2000), Stevenson (2003)

Paleomag and continental cycles (D)

Collins (2003); Kroner & Layer (1992); Blake et al. (2004); Strik et al. (2004)

True polar wander

Goldreich & Toome (1969); Steinberger (1997); Evans (2003); Maloof et al. (2006)

Core and budgets (D)

Buffett (2003), Labrosse (2005a,b)

Geochemistry/Petrology (P)

Barley et al. (2005), Collerson & Kamber (1999); {Harrison et al. (2005, 2006); Valley et al. (2006)}, Spengler et al. (2006), Foley et al. (2003), Farquhar et al. (2002)


All underlined are links to (password protected) PDF files, or outside resources. Some papers are clearly hard to classify, but I've tried nonetheless; the links include papers from the reading list and some background material. If you find papers that are missing, please pass them on as PDF. The focus here is on more recent articles, some classic references are still missing.

Textbooks and special volumes

Benn, K., Marechal, J.-C., and Condie, K., eds., (2006). Archean Geodynamics and Environments, AGU Geophysical Monograph. 164, American Geophysical Union.

Condie, K. C. (2005) Earth as an evolving planetary system. Elsevier Academic Press, Burlington MA.

Davies, G. F. (1999): Dynamic Earth. Cambridge University Press, chap. 14.

GSA Penrose Conference (2006) When Did Plate Tectonics Begin? Links to lecture slides.

Overview papers

Cawood, P. A., Kroener, A., Pisarevsky, S. (2006): Precambrian plate tectonics: criteria and evidence, GSA Today, 16, 10.1130/GSAT01607.1

Condie, K. C. and Benn, K. (2006):Archean Geodynamics: Similar or different from modern geodynamics, In: Archean Geodynamics and Environments. Benn, K., Marechal, J.-C., and Condie, K., eds., AGU Geophysical Monograph. 164, American Geophysical Union, 47-59.

Stern, R. J. (2005): Evidence from ophiolites, blueshists, and ultrahigh-pressure metamorphic terranes that modern episode of subduction tectonics began in Neoproterozoic time. Geology, 33, 557-560.

Witze, A. (2006): The Start of the world as we know it. Nature, 442, 128 – 131.

Sleep, N. (submitted). Evolution of the Earth: Plate tectonics through time. Treatise on Geophysics – Volume 9.


Buffett, B. 2003. The thermal state of Earth's core. Science, 299, 1675 – 1677.

Christensen, U., 1985, Thermal evolution models for the Earth, J. Geophys. Res., 90, 2995-3007.

Conrad, C. P. and Hager, B. H. (2001). Mantle convection with strong subduction zones. Geophys. J. Int., 144, 271 – 288.

Davies, G. F. 1992. On the emergence of plate tectonics. Geology, 20, 963.

Davies, G. F. 2006. Gravitational depletion of the early Earth's upper mantle and the viability of early plate tectonics. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 243, 376-382.

Evans D.A.D., 2003. True polar wander and supercontinents. Tectonophysics, 362, 303-320.

Goldreich, P. and Toomre, A. (1969): Some remarks on polar wandering: J. Geophys. Res, 74, 2555 – 2567.

Grigne, C., S. Labrosse and P. J. Tackley, Convective heat transfer as a function of wavelength: Implications for the cooling of the Earth, J. Geophys. Res., 110, B3, B03409, doi:10.1029/2004JB003376.

Gurnis, M. 1988. Large-scale mantle convection and the aggregation and dispersal of supercontinents. Nature, 332, 695-699.

Korenaga, J. 2006. Archean geodynamics and the thermal evolution of the Earth. In: Archean Geodynamics and Environments. Benn, K., Marechal, J.-C., and Condie, K., eds., AGU Geophysical Monograph. 164, American Geophysical Union, 7 – 31.

Jaupart, C., Labrosse, S., and Mareschal, J.-C. (2006): Temperatures, Heat and Energy in the Mantle of the Earth, submitted for the Treatise of Geophysics, Mantle dynamics (Bercovici, Schubert, eds).

Labrosse, S. (2003): Thermal and magnetic evolution of the Earth's core. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter., 140, 127-143.

Labrosse, S. (2005a), Heat flow across the core-mantle boundary, in Encyclopedia Of Geomagnetism And Paleomagnetism, (D. Gubbins and E. Herrero-Bervera, eds), Springer, in press.

Labrosse, S. (2005b), Energy sources for the dynamo, in Encyclopedia Of Geomagnetism And Paleomagnetism, (D. Gubbins and E. Herrero-Bervera, eds), Springer, in press.

Labrosse, S. and C. Jaupart (2006): The thermal evolution of the Earth: Long term and fluctuations, submitted to EPSL.

Lenardic, A., Moresi, L.-N., Jellinek, A. M. and Manga, M. 2005. Continental insulation, mantle cooling, and the surface area of oceans and continents. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 234, 317-333.

McNamara, A.K. and P.E. van Keken, 2000. Cooling of the Earth: A parameterized convection study of whole vs. layered models, Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 1 (11), doi:10.1029/2000GC000045.

Nakagawa, T., and P. J. Tackley, (2005): Deep mantle heat flow and thermal evolution of the Earth's core based on thermo-chemical multiphase mantle convection, Geophys. Geochem. Geosys, 6, Q08003, doi:10.1029/2005JB003751

Hoffman, P. F., and G. Ranalli (1988), Archean oceanic flake tectonics, Geophys. Res. Lett., 15(10), 1077–1080.

Sleep, N. (2000): Evolution of the mode of convection within terrestrial planets. J. Geophys. Res., 105, 17563-17578

Sleep, N. (2005): Evolution of the continental lithosphere. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 33, 369-393.

Steinberger, B. and O'Connell, R. J. (1997): Changes of the Earth's rotation axis owing to advection of mantle density heterogeneities. Nature, 387, 169.

Stevenson, D. J. (2003) Styles of mantle convection and their influence on planetary evolution. Compt. Rend. Geoscience, 335, 99 – 111.

Solomatov V. S. (1995): Scaling of temperature- and stress-dependent viscosity convection, Phys. Fluids, 7, 266-274.

Tackley, P. J., S. Xie, T. Nakagawa and J. W. Hernlund, Numerical and laboratory studies of mantle convection: Philosophy, accomplishments and thermo-chemical structure and evolution, in Earth's Deep Mantle: Structure, Composition, and Evolution, Geophysical Monograph Series 160, AGU doi:10.1029/160GM07, 83-99

Tozer, D. C. (1972) The present thermal state of the terrestrial planet, Physics of The Earth and Planetary Interiors, 6, 182-197

van Keken, P. E. 2003. The structure and dynamics of the mantle wedge. EPSL, 215, 323-338.

van Hunen, J. and van den Berg, A. P. 2006. Plate tectonics on the early Earth: limitations imposed by strength and buoyancy of subducted lithosphere. Lithos, in press.

van Thienen, P., N.J. Vlaar and A.P. van den Berg (2004) Plate tectonics on the terrestrial planets. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 142, 61-74.

van Thienen, P., N.J. Vlaar and A.P. van den Berg (2005) Assessment of the cooling capacity of plate tectonics and flood volcanism in the evolution of Earth, Mars and Venus. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 150, 287-315.

Vlaar, N. J., van Keken, P. E. and van den Berg, A. P. 1994. Cooling of the Earth in the Archean: consequences of pressure-release in a hotter mantle. EPSL, 121, 1-18.

Geology and Paleomag

Blake, T. S., Buick, R. , Brown, S. J. A., and Barley, M. E. (2004): Geochronology of a Late Archaean flood basalt province in the Pilbara Craton, Australia: constraints on basin evolution, volcanic and sedimentary accumulation, and continental drift rate, Precambrian Research, 133, 143 – 173.

Boland, A. V. et at., 1988. Seismic delineation of upthrust Archaean crust in Kapuskasing, Northern Ontario. Nature, 335, 711-713.

Collins, W. J. (2003): Slab pull, mantle convection, Pangean assembly and dispersal. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 205, 225.

Foley, S., Tiepolo, M., and Vannucci, R., 2002. Growth of early continental crust controlled by melting of amphibolite in subduction zones. Nature, 417, 837-840.

Grambling, J. A. (1981) Pressures and temperatures in Precambrian metamorphic rocks. Earth Planet Sci Lett, 53, 63 – 68.

Condie, K. 2000. Episodic continental growth models; afterthoughts and extensions. Tectonophysics, 322, 153 – 162.

Kröner, A. and Layer, P. W. (1992) Crust Formation and Plate Motion in the Early Archean Science 256, 1405-1411.

Kusky, T. M., Li, J.-H., and Tucker, R. D. (2001): The Archean Dongwanzi ophiolite complex, North China craton: 2.505-Billion-year-old oceanic crust and mantle. Science, 229, 1142 – 1145.

Maloof, A. C., Halverson, G. P., Kirschvink, J. L., Schrag, D., Weiss, B. J., Hoffman, P. (2006): Combined paleomagnetic, isotopic, and stratigraphic evidence for true polar wander from the Neoproterozoic Akademikerbreen Group, Svalbard, Norway. GSA Bull, 118, 1099-1124

Moores, E. (2002): Pre-1 Ga (pre-Rodinian) ophiolites: their tectonic and environmental implications. GSA Bulletin, 114, 80-95.

Moyen, J.-F., Stevens, G., and Kisters, A. (2006): Record of mid-Archaean subduction from metamorphism in the Barberton terrain, South Africa. Nature, 442, 559-562.

Rapp, R.P., Shimizu, N., and Norman, M.D., (2003): Growth of early continental crust by partial melting of eclogite. Nature 425, 605-609.

Smithies, R. H., Champion, D.C., and Cassidy, K. F. (2003): Formation of Earth's early Archean continental crust. Precambrian Research, 127, 89-101.

Smithies, R. H., van Kranendonk, M. J. Champion, D. C. (2006). The Mesoarchean emergence of subduction. Precambrian Research, in press.

Spengler, D., van Roermund, H. L. M., Drury, M. R.. Ottolini, L., Mason, P. R. D., Davies, G. R. (2006): Deep origin and hot melting of an Archaean orogenic peridotite massif in Norway, Nature, 440,913 – 917.

Strik G., T. S. Blake, T. E. Zegers, S. H. White, C. G. Langereis (2003), Palaeomagnetism of flood basalts in the Pilbara Craton, Western Australia: Late Archaean continental drift and the oldest known reversal of the geomagnetic field, J. Geophys. Res., 108 (B12), 2551, doi:10.1029/2003JB002475.

de Wit, M.J., Roering, C., Hart, R.J., Armstrong, R.A., de Ronde, C.E.J., Green, R.W.E., Tredoux, M., Peberdy, E., and Hart, R.A., 1992. Formation of an Archaean continent. Nature, 357, 553-562.

de Wit, MJ (1998). Granite, greenstones, cratons and tectonics: does the evidence demand a verdict? Precambrian Research, 91, 181-226.

White, D.J., Musacchio, G., Helmstaedt, H.H., Harrap, R.M., Thurston, P.C., van der Velden, A., and Hall, K., 2003. Images of a lower crustal-oceanic slab: Direct evidence for tectonic accretion in the Archean western Superior province. Geology, 31.

Zegers, T.E. and van Keken, P.E. (2001): Middle Archaean continent formation by crustal delamination. Geology, 29, 1083-1086.

Zhai, M.. Zhao, G., and Zhang, Q. (2002) Is the Dongwanzu complex an Archean ophiolite? Science, 295, 923a.


Arndt, N. (2003) Komatiites, kimberlites, and boninites. J. Geophys. Res., 108, 2293, doi:10.1029/2002JB002157,

Abbott, D. ; Burgess, L. ; Longhi, J. ; Smith, W. H. F. (1994) An empirical thermal history of the Earth's upper mantle J. Geophys. Res., 99, 13,835-13,850.

Bedard, J. H. 2006. A catalytic delamination-driven model for coupled genesis of Archean crust and sub-continental lithospheric mantle. Geochem. Cosmochim. Acta, 70, 1188-1214.

Bickle, M. J. (1978) Heat loss from the earth: A constraint on Archaean tectonics from the relation between geothermal gradients and the rate of plate production. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 40, 301-315.

Brown, M. (2006a): Metamorphic conditions in orogenic belts: A record of secular change. Int. Geol. Rev., in press.

Brown, M. (2006b): Metamorphisms, plate tectonics and the supercontinent cycle, Earth Science Frontiers, in press

Brown, M. (2006c): A duality of thermal regimes is the distinctive characteristic of plate tectonics since the Neoarchean, Geology, in press.

Campbell, I. H. (2003). Constraints on continental growth models from Nb/U ratios in the 3.5 Ga Barberton and other Archaean basalt-komatiite suites, Am J Sci, 303, 319-351.

Collerson, K.D. and Kamber, B. S. (1999), Evolution of the continents and the atmosphere inferred from Th-U-Nb systematics of the depleted mantle. Science, 283, 1519-1522.

Farquhar, J., Wing, B. A., McKeegan, K. D. , Harris, J. W., Cartignym P., and Thiemens, M. H. 2002. Mass-independent sulfur of inclusions in diamond and sulfur recycling on early Earth. Science, 298, 2369 – 2372.

Foley, S.F., Buhre, S., and Jacob, D.E., 2003. Evolution of the Archaean crust by delamination and shallow subduction. Nature, 421, 249-252.

Grove, T. L. and Parman, S. W. (2004): Thermal evolution of the Earth as recorded by komatiite, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 219, 173-187.

Harrison, T. M., Blichert-Toft, J., Muller, W., Albarede, F., Holden, P., and Mojzsis, S. J. 2005. Heterogeneous Hadean Hafnium: Evidence of Continental Crust at 4.4 to 4.5 Ga, Science, 310, 1947 – 1950.

Harrison, T. M., Blichert-Toft, J., Muller, W., Albarede, F., Holden, P., and Mojzsis, S. J. 2006 Response to Comment on "Heterogeneous Hadean Hafnium: Evidence of Continental Crust at 4.4 to 4.5 Ga", Science, 312, 1193.

Hofman, A. (1997) Mantle geochemistry: The message from oceanic volcanism. Nature, 385, 219 - 229.

Kasting, et al. (2006) Paleoclimates, ocean depth, and the oxygen isotopic composition of seawater, EPSL, 252, 82-93.

Valley, J. W., Cavosie, A. J., Fu, B., Peck, W. J. and Wilde, S. A. (2006): Comment on "Heterogeneous Hadean Hafnium: Evidence of Continental Crust at 4.4 to 4.5 Ga", Science, 312, 1139.

Disability notice

Students requesting academic accommodations based on a disability are required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP when adequate documentation is filed. Please be sure the letter is delivered to us (or to your TA) as early in the semester as possible. DSP is open Monday Friday, 8:30 5:00. The office is in Student Union 301 and the phone number is (213) 740 0776.