TAN KAH KEE Science Award

Earth Sciences

Destruction of the Norh China Craton

Abstract:A craton is characterized by lacking of obvious volcanic activity and violent earthquakes, and tectonically stable over a very long period of time. However, the North China Craton (NCC) has lost its partial intrinsic stability since the Mesozoic Era, which puzzled geoscientists over the past century. Dr Zhu has engaged in this research subject and accomplished comprehensive geological, seismic, paleomagnetic and geochemical studies with coworkers over the past decade, under the guidance of Earth system and plate tectonics theories. Through a decade long endeavoring work, a number of fundamental discoveries on how the NCC lost its stability have been achieved. Firstly, Dr Zhu and coworkers have demonstrated that the nature of NCC destruction is a transformation of the composition and physicochemical properties of lithospheric mantle beneath the NCC. This finding has changed our traditional understanding of the ancient craton as “invariable”. The lithospheric thinning, large-scale magmatic activities and intensive structural deformation on the NCC are surficial expressions of the integrated catastrophic changes in properties of the deeper lithospheric mantle. This creative insight is well corroborated by geophysical and geochemical studies. Secondly, they have revealed doubtlessly that the eastern block was dramatically destructed during Early Cretaceous, while the western block mostly remains stable, and the central block was partially destructed. Thirdly, Dr Zhu and collaborators have discovered that the Early Cretaceous paleo-Pacific plate westward subduction dominated the destruction process of NCC. The dehydration of subducted slab stagnated in the mantle transition zone may lead to partial melting and non-steady flow in the overlying mantle, and consequently, trigger the destruction process. Furthermore, Dr. Zhu has postulated that the craton destruction caused by an oceanic-continental plate interaction is universal in global continental evolution throughout the Earth history. Those findings and breakthroughs provide novel insights into the intracontinental orogeny and mineralization, as well as the theory of plate tectonics.

Awardee:Rixiang Zhu was born in 1955 at Datong, Shanxi Province. He received a bachelor’s degree of physics from the Shanxi University, a master’s degree of geophysics from the Institute of Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), a Ph.D. in geology from the Institute of Geology, CAS, and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Orleans, France. He served as the director of Institute of Geology and Geophysics, CAS, the Chairman of Earth Sciences Award Committee of the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), and a board member of the National Natural Science Foundation of China. He is an elected academician of CAS, member of TWAS, and Fellow of American Geophysical Union.

Rixiang Zhu’s scientific achievements include innovative insights on geomagnetic polarity reversals, paleointensity variation and Earth’s deep interior, destruction of craton and global tectonics. Driven by the national strategic needs, he advocated the national key project for the equipment development “Research and development of core equipment for deep resource exploration”, in which a new 3-in-1 research model integrated theory, technology and exploration has been developed. He successfully created the National Key Laboratory Alliance for Solid Earth Sciences in China, targeting a promotion of big science and collaborative innovation. He is a recipient of "The France-China Prize" from France, the TWAS Prize of Earth Sciences, the Petrus Peregrinus Medal from the European Geophysical Union, the CAS Outstanding Science and Technology Achievement Award, the National Natural Science Awards (2006 and 2017), the HLHL Prize for Science and Technological Progress, the National Young Scientist Award, the CAS first-class Natural Science Award, the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholar, and the CAS Fund for Hundred Talents Program.

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