A microcosm of modern crust formation: evidence from zircon ages, Hf O and Nd Sr isotopes and bulk geochemistry of the Menglian Batholith, SE Tibet

Ren-Zhi Zhu, Shao-Cong Lai, Mike Fowler, Jin-Cheng Xie, Sarah M. Glynn

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Modern continental crust has evolved to a more potassic, granitic composition than early continental crust, which comprises largely sodic TTG-suite magmas. The present paradigm holds that the latter are largely “juvenile” (in the sense that the time from mantle extraction to felsic crust production is comparatively short, of the order 10–100 Ma) while the former represent recycled older crust of igneous or sedimentary composition. The data from high-Mg diorites, tonalites, granodiorites and potassic granites of the 125–115 Ma Menglian Batholith (SE Tibet) exemplify the modern situation and can therefore be used to constrain current crust formation processes. These rocks have higher concentrations of incompatible elements than magmatic rocks from typical continental arc settings, with a continuum of increasing K2O/Na2O ratios, SiO2, K2O, Rb, and Th concentrations juxtaposed with decreasing MgO, CaO, and Sr. They consistently record both higher zircon δ18O values than mantle values and decoupled Ndsingle bondHf isotope systems caused by the interaction of subducted sediments with the mantle wedge. Petrogenetic mechanisms that connect the suite include crystal fractionation within the diorites, melting of the lower crust induced by advection of heat and water by the diorites, and high-level fractionation of the tonalite-granodiorite suite to produce the high-silica granites. Therefore, this example of modern fertile continental crust had a five-stage evolution: (1) subduction-enrichment of the mantle source, (2) mantle melting to produce mafic magmas that pooled in or below the lower crust, (3) mafic magma differentiation to produce the tonalite-granodioritic magmas controlled by crystal-liquid equilibria, (4) crustal melting and admixture to the evolving felsic magmas and (5) final high-level fractionation and melt extraction to produce the silicic extreme, enriched in incompatible elements such as Rb, Th and K. This model could be a general mechanism for how modern mature continental crust evolves. Importantly, it indicates a significant role for mafic magmas and thence a more important role for juvenile additions than is generally accepted.
Original languageEnglish
Article number121276
Number of pages14
JournalChemical Geology
Early online date26 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2023


  • Continental crust
  • Sodic granite
  • High silica granite
  • Multistage evolution
  • SE Tibetan Plateau

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