Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

3.5-Ga hydrothermal fields and diamictites in the Barberton Greenstone Belt—Paleoarchean crust in cold environments

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Science Advances  26 Feb 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 2, e1500368
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500368


Estimates of ocean temperatures on Earth 3.5 billion years ago (Ga) range between 26° and 85°C. We present new data from 3.47- to 3.43-Ga volcanic rocks and cherts in South Africa suggesting that these temperatures reflect mixing of hot hydrothermal fluids with cold marine and terrestrial waters. We describe fossil hydrothermal pipes that formed at ~200°C on the sea floor >2 km below sea level. This ocean floor was uplifted tectonically to sea level where a subaerial hydrothermal system was active at 30° to 270°C. We also describe shallow-water glacial diamictites and diagenetic sulfate mineral growth in abyssal muds. These new observations reveal that both hydrothermal systems operated in relatively cold environments and that Earth’s surface temperatures in the early Archean were similar to those in more recent times.

  • Paleoarchean
  • Barberton (South Africa)
  • hydrothermal fields
  • silicification
  • oxygen isotopes
  • glacial diamictites
  • sulphate pseudomorphs
  • cold Archean climate

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