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Formation, Accretion and Reworking of Continents
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  • Rixiang Zhu,
  • Guochun Zhao,
  • Wenjiao Xiao,
  • Ling Chen,
  • Yanjie Tang
Rixiang Zhu
Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Corresponding Author:rxzhu@mail.iggcas.ac.cn

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Guochun Zhao
University of Hong Kong
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Wenjiao Xiao
Xinjiang Research Center for Mineral Resources, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Ling Chen
Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Yanjie Tang
Insitute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
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Felsic continental crust is unique to the Earth in the solar system, but it still remains controversial regarding its formation, accretion and reworking. The plate tectonics theory has been significantly challenged in explaining the origin of continents as Archean continents rarely preserve hallmarks of plate tectonics. In contrast, growing evidence emerges to support mantle plume-derived oceanic plateau models as the models can reasonably explain the origin of bimodal volcanic assemblages and nearly coeval emplacement of tonalite-trondjhemite-granodiorite (TTG) rocks, presence of ~1600ºC komatiites and dominant dome structures, and lack of ultra-high-pressure rocks, paired metamorphic belts and ophiolites in Archean continents. Although plate tectonics seems to fail in explaining the origin of continents, it has been successfully applied to interpret the accretion or outgrowth of continents along subduction zones where new mafic crust is generated at the base of continental crust through partial melting of the mantle wedge with addition of H2O-dominant fluids from the subducted oceanic slabs, and partial melting of the juvenile mafic crust results in the formation of new felsic continental crust, leading to the outside accretion of continents. Subduction processes also cause the softening, thinning and recycling of continental lithosphere due to the vigorous infiltration of volatile-rich fluids and melts especially along weak layers or weak belts, leading to the widespread reworking and even destruction of continental lithosphere. Reworking of continents also occurs in continental interiors due to plume-lithosphere interactions, which, however, leads to much less degrees of lithospheric modification than subduction-induced craton destruction.