The heat transport and lithospheric dynamics of early Earth are currently explained by plate tectonic and vertical tectonic models, but these do not offer a global synthesis consistent with the geologic record. Here we use numerical simulations and comparison with the geologic record to explore a heat-pipe model in which volcanism dominates surface heat transport. These simulations indicate that a cold and thick lithosphere developed as a result of frequent volcanic eruptions that advected surface materials downwards. Declining heat sources over time led to an abrupt transition to plate tectonics. Consistent with model predictions, the geologic record shows rapid volcanic resurfacing, contractional deformation, a low geothermal gradient across the bulk of the lithosphere and a rapid decrease in heat-pipe volcanism after initiation of plate tectonics. The heat-pipe Earth model therefore offers a coherent geodynamic framework in which to explore the evolution of our planet before the onset of plate tectonics.
Nature 501 501 doi: 10.1038/nature12473
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