Determining the physico-chemical conditions on the early earth : Barberton scientific drilling project, South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Low-grade metabasites and hydrothermally altered ultramafic rocks comprise most of the ca. 3.5-3.2 Ga, Paleoarchean Barberton Greenstone Belt (BGB) of South Africa. However, PT-constraints and detailed petrological information on the variably altered mafic-ultramafic rocks are sparse and the nature of greenschist facies metamorphism is poorly characterized. In addition, alteration and silicification associated with distinct emerald green, fuchsite-(Crmica)- carbonate-quartz alteration zones is commonly found beneath chert horizons in the mafic-ultramafic rocks of the Onverwacht Group of the BGB. The origin of this silicification is highly debated and has important bearing on the nature of Paleoarchean geodynamic models, crustal geothermal gradients, hydrothermal oceanic regimes, as well as potential early life-sustaining environments. Over the past four decades, widely varying interpretations have been reported for the origin of these silica-rich fuchsitic alteration zones in the BGB, ranging from very low temperature (less than 60oC) atmospheric weathering of komatiites (Lowe and Byerly, 1986; 1999); low-temperature (less than 125oC) seafloor alteration (Hofmann and Harris, 2008); to bedding-parallel ‘flaser-banded gneissesschists’ in oceanic ‘extensionaloverthrust glide planes’ (de Wit, 1982a; 1986a,b; de Wit et al., 1982b; 1987b; 2011). Consequently, these fuchsitic-alteration zones have been at the centre of much debate surrounding stratigraphy models and the possible operation of early Paleoarchean platetectonic processes in the BGB.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 146-162).