Oldest known rocks discovered

September 25, 2008

Washington, D.C.--Canadian bedrock more than four billion years old may be the oldest known section of the Earth's early crust. Scientists at the Carnegie Institution used geochemical methods to obtain an age of 4.28 billion years for samples of the rock, making it 250 million years more ancient than any previously discovered rocks. The findings, which offer scientists clues to the earliest stages of our planet's evolution, are published in the September 26 issue of Science.*

The Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt is an expanse of bedrock exposed on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec and was first recognized in 2001 as a potential site of very old rocks. Samples of the Nuvvuagittuq rocks were collected by geologists from McGill University in Montreal and analyzed by Jonathan O'Neil, a PhD student at McGill, and Richard Carlson at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. By measuring minute variations in the isotopic composition of the rare earth elements neodymium and samarium in the rocks, O'Neil and Carlson determined that the rock samples range from 3.8 to 4.28 billion years old. The oldest dates came from rocks termed "faux amphibolite," which the researchers interpret to be ancient volcanic deposits.

"There have been older dates from Western Australia for isolated resistant mineral grains called zircons," says Carlson, "but these are the oldest whole rocks found so far." The oldest zircon dates are 4.36 billion years. Before this study, the oldest dated rocks were from a body of rock known as the Acasta Gneiss in the Northwest Territories, which are 4.03 billion years old. The Earth is 4.6 billion years old, and remnants of its early crust are extremely rare--most of it has been mashed and recycled into Earth's interior several times over by plate tectonics since the Earth formed.

The rocks are significant not only for their great age but also for their chemical composition, which resembles that of volcanic rocks in geologic settings where tectonic plates are crashing together. "This gives us an unprecedented glimpse of the processes that formed the early crust," says Carlson.
-end-
The research was supported by National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

*Authors: Jonathan O'Neil, McGill University; Richard W. Carlson, Carnegie Institution; Don Francis, McGill University; Ross K. Stevenson, Université du Québec.The Carnegie Institution (www.CIW.edu) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Carnegie Institution for Science

Related Evolution Articles from Brightsurf:

Seeing evolution happening before your eyes
Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg established an automated pipeline to create mutations in genomic enhancers that let them watch evolution unfold before their eyes.

A timeline on the evolution of reptiles
A statistical analysis of that vast database is helping scientists better understand the evolution of these cold-blooded vertebrates by contradicting a widely held theory that major transitions in evolution always happened in big, quick (geologically speaking) bursts, triggered by major environmental shifts.

Looking at evolution's genealogy from home
Evolution leaves its traces in particular in genomes. A team headed by Dr.

How boundaries become bridges in evolution
The mechanisms that make organisms locally fit and those responsible for change are distinct and occur sequentially in evolution.

Genome evolution goes digital
Dr. Alan Herbert from InsideOutBio describes ground-breaking research in a paper published online by Royal Society Open Science.

Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.

A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.

Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?

Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.

Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.

Read More: Evolution News and Evolution Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.