Crustal and thermal structure of the Thomson Orogen: constraints from the geochemistry, zircon U–Pb age, and Hf and O isotopes of subsurface granitic rocks

The origin of elevated geothermal gradients in the subsurface Thomson Orogen and the nature of the crustal basement beneath it, whether oceanic or continental, remain enigmatic. Previous studies have demonstrated that a higher crustal radiogenic input is required to explain these anomalous thermal gradients. In this study, we have investigated the nature and age of this crustal input by undertaking geochemical, geochronological and Hf and O isotope analyses of buried granitic rocks as well as evaluating the heat-producing potential of metasedimentary rocks. The mineralogy, composition and Neoproterozoic/Cambrian to Devonian age of the low to moderate heat-producing I- and S-type granitic rocks strongly contrast with the Carboniferous A-type high-heat-producing granites of the Big Lake Suite, which have been suggested to be an important contributor to the elevated geothermal gradients, near the southwest corner of the Thomson Orogen. These differences suggest the Big Lake Suite rocks do not extend into the Queensland part of the temperature anomaly. Heat production of the metasedimentary rocks is also low to moderate. Based on Hf isotope compositions of zircons characterised by mantle-like oxygen signature (ϵHf(t) = –12 to +2), we propose the temperature anomaly results from the occurrence of Mesoproterozoic and/or Paleoproterozoic high-heat-producing rocks beneath the Thomson Orogen. Precambrian crust, therefore, lies well east of the Tasman line. The results do not support a Neoproterozoic to Cambrian oceanic crust, as previously suggested, but instead point to a continental substrate for the Thomson Orogen. Hf isotopes indicate an overall trend towards more isotopically juvenile compositions with a progressive reduction in the contribution of older crustal sources to granitic magmas towards the present time. Different Hf isotopic signatures for the Lachlan (ϵHf(t) = –13 to +15), Thomson (ϵHf(t) = –14 to +5) and Delamerian (ϵHf(t) = –7 to +4) orogens highlight lateral variations in the age structures of crustal basement beneath these orogens.