The evolution of the continental crust is a topic that has challenged Earth scientists since the earliest hypotheses of crustal evolution were put forth by such luminaries as Hutton, the 18th century Scottish scientist, and later by Stille (Germany), Argand (France), and Dana (United States). Recent geophysical observations provide important constraints on hypotheses of crustal evolution, and the most important of these observations are reviewed in a companion paper [Mooney and Meissner, 1991], henceforth referred to as Paper 1. In this article we briefly speculate on crustal evolution using both geological and geophysical data as guidelines.
For the past 25 years, the basic framework for models of the evolution of the Earth's crust and lithosphere has been plate tectonics. This framework has been particularly successful in explaining the processes that form and modify the oceanic crust but has had somewhat more limited success in its application to the continental crust. Some of the basic tenets of plate tectonics, as applied to the continental crust, are listed below. Continental masses coalesce and disperse as ocean basins open and close in the Wilson cycle.