The secular cooling of the mantle and of the continental lithosphere trigger an increase in the area of emerged land. The corollary increase in weathering and erosion processes has major consequences for the evolution of Earth's external envelopes.
We developed a physical model to evaluate the area of emerged land as a function of mantle temperature, continental area, and of the distribution of continental elevations. Our numerical results show that less than 15% of Earth's surface consisted of emerged land by the end of the Archaean. This is consistent with many geological and geochemical observations.
To estimate the secular cooling of the continental lithosphere, we combined thermo-mechanical models with fi eld observations. Our results, constrained by geological data, suggest that the Moho temperature has decreased by ~ 200ºC over 2.7 Ga in the Pilbara Craton.
To evaluate the eff ect of continental growth on the evolution of the area of emerged land, we developed a model based on published thermal evolution models. Our results suggest that the area of emerged land was less than 5% of Earth's surface in the Archaean, and that it does not
depend on crustal growth. This allows to reconcile the evolution of oceanic 87Sr/86Sr with early crustal growth models.
Continents are enriched in phosphorus, which is essential to the biosphere. The emergence of the continents would thus have triggered an increase in the production of oxygen by photosynthetic micro-organisms, possibly contributing to the oxidation of the atmosphere 2.4 Ga ago.