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Anorthosite-bearing layered intrusions are unique to the Archaean rock record and are abundant in the Archaean craton of southern West Greenland and the Superior Province of Canada. These layered intrusions consist mainly of ultramafic rocks, gabbros, leucogabbros and anorthosites, and typically contain high-Ca (>An70) megacrystic (2–30 cm in diameter) plagioclase in anorthosite and leucogabbro units. They are spatially and temporally associated with basalt-dominated greenstone belts and are intruded by syn-to post-tectonic granitoid rocks. The layered intrusions, greenstone belts and granitoids all share the geochemical characteristics of Phanerozoic subduction zone magmas, suggesting that they formed mainly in a suprasubduction zone setting. Archaean anorthosite-bearing layered intrusions and spatially associated greenstone belts are interpreted to be fragments of oceanic crust, representing dismembered subduction-related ophiolites. We suggest that large degrees of partial melting (25–35%) in the hotter (1500–1600 °C) Archaean upper mantle beneath rifting arcs and backarc basins produced shallow, kilometre-scale hydrous magma chambers. Field observations suggest that megacrystic anorthosites were generated at the top of the magma chambers, or in sills, dykes and pods in the oceanic crust. The absence of high-Ca megacrystic anorthosites in post-Archaean layered intrusions and oceanic crust reflects the decline of mantle temperatures resulting from secular cooling of the Earth.