Extending Whole-Plate Tectonic Models into Deep Time: Linking the Neoproterozoic and the Phanerozoic

Merdith, Andrew1,*, Collins, Alan2, Williams, Simon3, Tetley, Michael1, Mulder, Jacob4, Blades, Morgan2, Young, Alexander5, Armistead, Sheree6, Cannon, John7, Zahirovic, Sabin7 and Müller, Dietmar7

1UnivLyon, Université Lyon 1, Ens de Lyon, CNRS, UMR 5276 LGL-TPE, F-69622, Villeurbanne, France. 2Tectonics and Earth Systems Group (TES), Dept of Earth Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia. 3Northwest University, Xi’an, China. 4School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3168, Australia. 5GeoQuEST Research Centre, School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, NSW 2522, Australia. 6Geological Survey of Canada, 601 Booth Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada & Metal Earth, Harquail School of Earth Sciences, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. 7Earthbyte Group, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia

Recent progress in plate tectonic reconstructions has seen models move beyond the classical idea of continental drift by attempting to reconstruct the full evolving configuration of tectonic plates and plate boundaries through time. These advances are an essential step in in quantifying the role plate tectonics has had in the evolution of Earth-surface systems, including the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere, as well as palaeogeographies and the evolving shape of the Earth surface (palaeobathymetry and topography). Previous work has resulted in a number of full-plate reconstructions spanning the last 1 Ga. However, so far these models cover discrete time periods, meaning that a complete model with a consistent set of plate motions and boundaries is not yet available to the Earth Science community. This is a particular problem for the Neoproterozoic and Cambrian, as it means that many existing interpretations of geological and palaeomagnetic data have remained disconnected from younger, better-constrained periods in Earth history. Here we present a continuous full-plate model spanning 1 Ga to the present-day, that is focused on a revised and improved model for the Neoproterozoic–Cambrian (1000–520 Ma), but connects with models of the Phanerozoic and opens up pre-Gondwana times for quantitative analysis and further regional refinements. The model is presented in a purely palaeomagnetic reference frame, and is otherwise geologically-derived, based on preserved data from past-plate boundaries. This is a first step in the direction of a detailed and self-consistent tectonic reconstruction for the last billion years of Earth history.


Andrew completed his PhD at the University of Sydney in 2017, investigating the kinematic and tectonic history of the Neoproterozoic Earth. He has since been a Post-doctoral Fellow at Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 since 2018, constructing tectonic models of serpentinisation in oceanic lithosphere.

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