School of Earth Sciences - Theses

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    Cryogenian iron formations: glaciation and oxygenation
    Lechte, Maxwell ( 2018)
    The Cryogenian Period (720–635 Ma) experienced extreme glaciations broadly coincident with a transformation of the Earth’s surface oxidation state, supercontinent breakup, and the evolution of complex animal multicellularity. However, the cause-and-effect relationships of these events are unresolved. The Cryogenian ice ages, known as ‘Snowball Earth' events, would have placed important constraints on the biosphere, and it remains unclear what role global refrigeration played in setting the stage for eukaryotic diversification and the origin of animals. The Cryogenian also experienced the deposition of iron-rich marine chemical sediments (iron formations), representing the first episode of global iron formation deposition in over one billion years. This shift in iron cycling highlights complexities in seawater chemistry and oxidation state during this time, and these iron formations offer valuable insights into Cryogenian palaeoenvironments. Iron formations from Cryogenian glacial successions in Namibia, USA and Australia were studied in order to investigate Cryogenian iron formation genesis and elucidate the relationships between glaciation, ocean chemistry, oxygenation and biotic evolution. In-depth sedimentology, stratigraphy and petrography reveals that these iron formations are intimately associated with Sturtian glacial sediments and are interpreted have been deposited in a range of glaciomarine environments. Geochemical analysis of these chemical sediments permits the reconstruction of Cryogenian ocean chemistry and the synglacial palaeoredox landscape. Multiple geochemical proxies, including rare earth element and iron isotope systematics, indicate widespread marine anoxia with increasing seawater oxidation with proximity to the ice shelf grounding line. A genetic model is proposed whereby the mixing of oxygenated glacial fluids with ferruginous seawater led to the deposition of iron formations in glacial successions during the Cryogenian. Atmospheric oxygen trapped in glacial ice was likely an important oxidant source, delivered to Cryogenian glaciomarine environments via subglacial meltwater outwash. This meltwater supply may have been crucial in establishing oxygenated marine habitats for eukaryotes, including early animals, during Snowball Earth. Multi-million-year oxidation of the oceans via this mechanism may have also set the stage for a Neoproterozoic marine oxygenation event.
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    Isotopic disequilibrium in granitic systems: the origins of heterogeneity in granites and implications for partial melting in the crust and petrogenetic models
    Iles, Kieran Anthony ( 2017)
    Unravelling the processes involved in granite magmatism is essential to our understanding of the continental crust, its formation and evolution. Radiogenic isotope systems are commonly employed to this end, but the behaviour of these systems may not be as simple as is often assumed. Understanding the causes of isotopic complexity in granite suites is the aim of this research. By modelling the disequilibrium partial melting of isotopically heterogeneous protoliths the different compositions of the melt, source and restite for a range of hypothetical scenarios have been calculated. Results demonstrate that the melt produced may have Sr, Nd and Hf isotope compositions distinct from both the protolith and restite. A corollary is that restite-bearing magmas may exhibit different isotope compositions than their melts, a feature which should be preserved as a difference between the Hf isotope compositions of bulk-rock samples and their magmatic zircon populations. The same modelling also suggests that a single source rock can produce melts with diverse isotope compositions. The predictions of this modelling have been tested by analysing S- and I-type granites from the Lachlan Fold Belt, southeastern Australia, including iconic examples of restite-bearing rocks. Comparisons of Hf isotope compositions between bulk-rocks and their magmatic zircons reveal discrepancies (ΔεHfbulk-zircon) ranging from -0.6 to +2.5 ε units for I-type granites. This intra-sample Hf isotopic heterogeneity is interpreted to represent disequilibrium between the melt and restite assemblage. The ΔεHfbulk-zircon values are consistent with calculated ΔεHfmagma-melt values (from -4.2 to +7.4) based on the disequilibrium amphibole dehydration melting of 0.5-1.0 Ga meta-igneous protoliths. S-type granites also record differences between their bulk-rock and magmatic zircon Hf isotope compositions; however, the disparity is more subtle. Both positive and small negative ΔεHfbulk-zircon values are observed, consistent with modelling the partial melting of isotopically heterogeneous meta-sedimentary protoliths. In addition to low-temperature granites, case studies of two high-temperature I-type granitoid suites (Boggy Plain and Wallundry) have also been conducted. Both display a weak coupling between geochemical parameters that have been interpreted previously to indicate the involvement of assimilation and fractional crystallisation (AFC) processes. Positive ΔεHfbulk-zircon values obtained in the Boggy Plain Suite support the existing petrogenetic model in which basaltic melt becomes variously contaminated by material derived from the continental crust. The positive value is explained by retention of earlier-crystallised, more radiogenic phases in isotopically evolved, more felsic samples. In contrast, the Wallundry Suite is characterised by negative ΔεHfbulk-zircon values caused by the presence of unmelted components of its contaminant. A complex interplay of contamination, crystallisation, melt segregation and interaction between magma batches is required to account for the Wallundry Suite isotope data. The results of this study indicate that disequilibrium partial melting can produce within-suite isotopic variability without recourse to assimilation or mixing processes (1) in mafic to felsic samples caused by the progressive separation of melt from its isotopically distinct restite assemblage; and (2) via the extraction of multiple batches of isotopically distinct melts produced from a single source as anatexis proceeds. Furthermore, the isotope variation resulting from restite unmixing may be distinguished from magma mixing by decoupling of the Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd and Lu-Hf isotope systems. Importantly, the isotopic discrepancy between bulk-rock granite samples and their magmatic zircon populations suggests that the most mafic bulk-rock granite samples of a given suite, not magmatic zircon, provide the most accurate estimate of source rock Hf isotope compositions. This raises concerns regarding the ubiquitous use of zircon Hf isotope data to constrain crustal growth models.