Application of Low-Temperature Thermochronology to Craton Evolution

  • Barry KohnEmail author
  • Andrew Gleadow
Part of the Springer Textbooks in Earth Sciences, Geography and Environment book series (STEGE)


The view that cratons are tectonically and geomorphologically inert continental fragments is at odds with a growing body of evidence partly based on low-temperature thermochronology (LTT) studies. These suggest that large areas of cratons may have undergone discrete episodes of regional-scale Neoproterozoic and/or Phanerozoic heating, and cooling from modestly elevated paleotemperatures. Cooling is often attributed to the km-scale erosion of overlying low-conductivity sediments, rather than to removal of large sections of crystalline basement. Independent evidence for sedimentary burial includes: preservation of outliers, the sedimentary record in intracratonic basins, and sedimentary xenoliths entrained within kimberlites periodically emplaced into cratons. Further, stratigraphic and isotopic data from basinal sediments proximal to some cratons carry a record of the detritus removed, which can be linked temporally to cooling episodes in their inferred cratonic source areas. Differences in denudation rates reported from cratonic basement reconstructed from LTT data (long-term) and cosmogenic isotope and chemical weathering studies (short-term) reflect the strong contrast in erodibility potential between cover sediments since removed and the preserved crystalline rocks. Underlying processes involved in cratonic heating and cooling may include one of, or a complex interplay between: proximity to sediment sources from elevated orogens forming extensive foreland basins, structural deformation transmitted by far-field horizontal stresses from active plate boundaries, and the development of dynamic topography driven by vertical mantle stresses. Dynamic topography may also explain elevation changes observed in some cratons, where no clear deformation is apparent. LTT studies from classic cratons in Fennoscandia, Western Australia, Southern Africa, and Canada are reviewed, with emphasis on different aspects of their more recent evolution.



We are grateful to many past PhD students and researchers of the Melbourne thermochronology research group, including David Belton, Rod Brown, Fabian Kohlmann, Matevz Lorencak, Song Lu, Vhairi Macintosh, Wayne Noble, Paul O’Sullivan, Himansu Sahu and Ursula Weber, and other external researchers including Richard Everitt, Shimon Feinstein, Becky Flowers, Kerry Gallagher, Ilmo Kukkonen, Sven åke Larson, Kirk Osadetz, and Peter Sorjonen-Ward for their contributions toward low-temperature thermochronology studies in different cratonic settings and discussion around this topic. Low-temperature thermochronology craton studies at the University of Melbourne have been supported by funding from: the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE), the Australian Geodynamics Cooperative Research Center, the Geological Survey of Canada, the Office for Energy Research and Development (Canada), and the AuScope program of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Danielle Majer-Kielbaska assisted with drafting of some figures. We appreciate the thoughtful reviews provided by Mark Wildman, Ulrich Glasmacher, and Paul Fitzgerald.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth SciencesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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