Supercontinent tectonics and biogeochemical cycle: A matter of 'life and death'

M. Santosh
2010 Geoscience Frontiers  
The formation and disruption of supercontinents have significantly impacted mantle dynamics, solid earth processes, surface environments and the biogeochemical cycle. In the early history of the Earth, the collision of parallel intra-oceanic arcs was an important process in building embryonic continents. Superdownwelling along Y-shaped triple junctions might have been one of the important processes that aided in the rapid assembly of continental fragments into closely packed supercontinents.
more » ... ious models have been proposed for the fragmentation of supercontinents including thermal blanket and superplume hypotheses. The reassembly of supercontinents after breakup and the ocean closure occurs through "introversion", "extroversion" or a combination of both, and is characterized by either Pacific-type or Atlantic-type ocean closure. The breakup of supercontinents and development of hydrothermal system in rifts with granitic basement create anomalous chemical environments enriched in nutrients, which serve as the primary building blocks of the skeleton and bone of early modern life forms. A typical example is the rifting of the Rodinia supercontinent, which opened up an NeS oriented sea way along which nutrient enriched upwelling brought about a habitable geochemical environment. The assembly of supercontinents also had significant impact on life evolution. The role played by the Cambrian Gondwana assembly has been emphasized in many models, including the formation of 'Transgondwana Mountains' that might have provided an effective source of rich nutrients to the equatorial waters, thus aiding the rapid increase in biodiversity. The planet has witnessed several mass extinction events during its history, mostly connected with major climatic fluctuations including global cooling and warming events, major glaciations, fluctuations in sea level, global anoxia, volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts and gamma radiation. Some recent models speculate a relationship between Geoscience Frontiers journal homepage: Geoscience Frontiers (2010) 1, 21e30 superplumes, supercontinent breakup and mass extinction. Upwelling plumes cause continental rifting and formation of large igneous provinces. Subsequent volcanic emissions and resultant plume-induced "winter" have catastrophic effect on the atmosphere that lead to mass extinctions and long term oceanic anoxia. The assembly and dispersal of continents appear to have influenced the biogeochemical cycle, but whether the individual stages of organic evolution and extinction on the planet are closely linked to Solid Earth processes remains to be investigated. ª
doi:10.1016/j.gsf.2010.07.001 fatcat:rstxd2nn2rdmhkr5as5myggbhi