Upside-down differentiation and generation of a 'primordial' lower mantle Journal Article uri icon

DCO ID 11121/1585-5502-8743-8492-CC

in language

  • eng

year of publication

  • 2010


  • Except for the first 50-100 million years or so of the Earth's history, when most of the mantle may have been subjected to melting, the differentiation of Earth's silicate mantle has been controlled by solid-state convection(1). As the mantle upwells and decompresses across its solidus, it partially melts. These low-density melts rise to the surface and form the continental and oceanic crusts, driving the differentiation of the silicate part of the Earth. Because many trace elements, such as heat-producing U, Th and K, as well as the noble gases, preferentially partition into melts (here referred to as incompatible elements), melt extraction concentrates these elements into the crust (or atmosphere in the case of noble gases), where nearly half of the Earth's budget of these elements now resides(2). In contrast, the upper mantle, as sampled by mid-ocean ridge basalts, is highly depleted in incompatible elements, suggesting a complementary relationship with the crust. Mass balance arguments require that the other half of these incompatible elements be hidden in the Earth's interior. Hypotheses abound for the origin of this hidden reservoir(3-6). The most widely held view has been that this hidden reservoir represents primordial material never processed by melting or degassing. Here, we suggest that a necessary by-product of whole-mantle convection during the Earth's first billion years is deep and hot melting, resulting in the generation of dense liquids that crystallized and sank into the lower mantle. These sunken lithologies would have 'primordial' chemical signatures despite a non-primordial origin.


  • 463


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