Detrital chromite from Jack Hills, Western Australia: signatures of metamorphism and constraints on provenance

Leanne Staddon, Ian Parkinson, Aaron Cavosie, Tim Elliott, John Valley, John Fournelle, Anthony Kemp, Steven Shirey

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Detrital chromites are commonly reported within Archean metasedimentary rocks, but have thus far garnered little attention for use in provenance studies. Systematic variations of Cr-Fe spinel mineral chemistry with changing tectonic setting has resulted in the extensive use of chromite as a petrogenetic indicator, and so detrital chromites represent good candidates to investigate the petrogenesis of eroded Archean mafic and ultramafic crust. Here, we report the compositions of detrital chromites within fuchsitic (Cr-muscovite rich) metasedimentary rocks from the Jack Hills, situated within the Narryer Terrane, Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia, which are geologically renowned for hosting Hadean (>4000 Ma) zircons. We highlight signatures of metamorphism, including highly elevated ZnO and MnO, coupled with lowered Mg# in comparison to magmatic chromites, development of pitted domains, and replacement of primary inclusions by phases that are part of the metamorphic assemblages within host metasedimentary rocks. Oxygen isotope compositions of detrital chromites record variable exchange with host metasedimentary rocks. The variability of metamorphic signatures between chromites sampled only meters apart further indicates modification occurred in-situ by interaction of detrital chromites with metamorphic fluids and secondary mineral assemblages. Alteration likely occurred during upper greenschist to lower amphibolite facies metamorphism and deformation of host metasedimentary rocks at ∼2650 Ma. Regardless of metamorphic signatures, sampling location or grain shape, chromite cores yield a consistent range in Cr#. While other key petrogenetic indices, such as Fe2O3 and TiO2 contents, are complicated in Jack Hills chromites by mineral non-stoichiometry and secondary mobility within metasedimentary rocks, we demonstrate that the Cr# of chromite yields significant insights into their provenance. Importantly, moderate Cr# (typically 55-70) precludes a komatiitic origin for the bulk of chromites, reflecting a dearth of komatiites and intrusive equivalents within the erosional catchment of the Jack Hills metasedimentary units. We suggest the Cr# of Jack Hills chromite fits well with chromites derived from layered intrusions, and that a single layered intrusion may account for the observed chemical compositions of Jack Hills detrital chromites. Where detailed characterisation of key metamorphic signatures is undertaken, detrital chromites preserved within Archean metasedimentary rocks may therefore yield valuable information on the petrogenesis and geodynamic setting of poorly preserved mafic and ultramafic crust.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberegab052
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Petrology
Issue number12
Early online date15 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Archean
  • chromite
  • Jack Hills
  • Narryer Terrane
  • provenance
  • UKRI
  • NERC
  • S117831-117
  • S118481-101


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