The style of tectonics on the Hadean and Archean Earth, particularly whether plate tectonics was in operation or not, is debated. One important, albeit indirect, constraint on early Earth tectonics comes from observations of early-formed geochemical heterogeneities: 142Nd and 182W anomalies recorded in Hadean to Phanerozoic rocks from different localities indicate that chemically heterogeneous reservoirs, formed during the first ∼500 Myrs of Earth's history, survived their remixing into the mantle for over 1 Gyrs. Such a long mixing time is difficult to explain because hotter mantle temperatures, expected for the early Earth, act to lower mantle viscosity and increase convective vigor. Previous studies found that mobile lid convection typically erases heterogeneity within ∼100 Myrs under such conditions, leading to the hypothesis that stagnant lid convection on the early Earth was responsible for the observed long mixing times. However, using two-dimensional Cartesian convection models that include grainsize evolution, we find that mobile lid convection can preserve heterogeneity at high mantle temperature conditions for much longer than previously thought, because higher mantle temperatures lead to larger grainsizes in the lithosphere. These larger grainsizes result in stronger plate boundaries that act to slow down surface and interior convective motions, in competition with the direct effect temperature has on mantle viscosity. Our models indicate that mobile lid convection can preserve heterogeneity for ≈0.4–1 Gyrs at early Earth mantle temperatures when the initial heterogeneity has the same viscosity as the background mantle, and ≈1–4 Gyrs when the heterogeneity is ten times more viscous than the background mantle. Thus, stagnant lid convection is not required to explain long-term survival of early formed geochemical heterogeneities, though these heterogeneities having an elevated viscosity compared to the surrounding mantle may be essential for their preservation.

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Keywords 142Nd and 182W anomalies, damage theory, early Earth mantle dynamics, long-lived mantle heterogeneities
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Journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Foley, B.J. (Bradford J.), & Rizo, H. (2017). Long-term preservation of early formed mantle heterogeneity by mobile lid convection: Importance of grainsize evolution. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 475, 94–105. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2017.07.031