Trace-element composition of hydrothermal zircon and the alteration of Hadean zircon from the Jack Hills, Australia

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Hydrothermal zircon can be used to date fluid-infiltration events and water/rock interaction. At the Boggy Plain zoned pluton (BPZP), eastern Australia, hydrothermal zircon occurs with hydrothermal scheelite, molybdenite, thorite and rutile in incipiently altered aplite and monzogranite. The hydrothermal zircon is texturally distinct from magmatic zircon in the same rocks, occurring as murky-brown translucent 20–50 μm-thick mantles on magmatic cores and less commonly as individual crystals. The hydrothermal mantles are internally textureless in back-scatter electron and cathodoluminescence images whereas magmatic zircon is oscillatory zoned. The age of the hydrothermal zircon is indistinguishable from magmatic zircon, indicating precipitation from a fluid evolved from the magma during the final stages of crystallization. Despite indistinguishable U-Pb isotopic compositions, the trace-element compositions of the hydrothermal and magmatic zircon are distinct. Hydrothermal zircon is enriched in all measured trace-elements relative to magmatic zircon in the same rock, including V, Ti, Nb, Hf, Sc, Mn, U, Y, Th and the rare-earth elements (REE). Chondrite-normalized REE abundances form two distinct pattern groupings: type-1 (magmatic) patterns increase steeply from La to Lu and have Ce and Eu anomalies—these are patterns typical for unaltered magmatic zircon in continental crust rock types; type-2 (hydrothermal) patterns generally have higher abundances of the REE, flatter light-REE patterns [(Sm/La)N = 1.5–4.4 vs. 22–110 for magmatic zircon] and smaller Ce anomalies (Ce/Ce* = 1.8–3.5 vs. 32–49 for magmatic zircon). Type-2 patterns have also been described for hydrothermally-altered zircon from the Gabel Hamradom granite, Egypt, and a granitic dyke from the Acasta Gneiss Complex, Canada.

Hadean (∼4.5–4.0 Ga) zircon from the Jack Hills, Western Australia, have variable normalized REE patterns. In particular, the oldest piece of Earth—zircon crystal W74/2-36 (dated at 4.4 Ga)—contains both type-1 and type-2 patterns on a 50 μm scale, a phenomenon not yet reported for unaltered magmatic zircon. In the context of documented magmatic and hydrothermal zircon compositions from constrained samples from the BPZP and the literature, the type-2 patterns in crystal W74/2-36 and other Jack Hills Hadean (JHH) zircon are interpreted as hydrothermally-altered magmatic compositions. An alteration scenario, constrained by isotope and trace-element data, as well as α-decay event calculations, involving fluid/zircon cation and oxygen isotope exchange within partially metamict zones and minor dissolution/reprecipitation, may have occurred episodically for some JHH zircon and at ∼4.27 Ga for zircon W74/2-36. Type-2 compositions in JHH zircon are interpreted to represent localized exchange with a light-REE-bearing, high δ18O (∼6–10‰ or higher) fluid. Thus, a complex explanation involving “permanent” liquid water oceans, large-scale water/rock interaction and plate tectonics in the very early Archean is not necessary as the zircon textures and compositions are simply explained by exchange between partially metamict zircon and a low volume ephemeral fluid.


This article was originally published in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta


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