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Applying Popperian falsifiability to geodynamic hypotheses: empirical testing of the episodic crustal/zircon production hypothesis and selective preservation hypothesis

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posted on 25.09.2020 by Stephen J. Puetz, Kent C. Condie

Even though Earth scientists widely recognize the episodic distribution of zircon ages, the cause of the episodes remains unresolved. Two competing explanations have emerged. Some interpret zircon age peaks as pulses of continental crust production, whereas others suspect production remains relatively constant with the episodes caused by variable preservation potential. However, in their current forms, neither hypothesis contains enough details to rigorously test them on a global scale. Here, we integrate existing ideas of continental evolution into a reduced hypothesis of episodic zircon production coupled with proportionate zircon destruction. We treat global zircon destruction as being random from the collective destructive processes of surface weathering and erosion, delamination of lower continental crust and mantle lithosphere, and subduction. Using Popperian falsifiability as a framework, we interpret selective preservation and present a testable version of it. Likewise, we present an episodic zircon production hypothesis accompanied with testable postulates. Next, both geodynamical hypotheses are tested using standard statistical approaches. The results falsify our interpretation of selective preservation in ten ways and supports the hypothesis of episodic global zircon production coupled with proportionate global zircon destruction.