The total amount of carbon in the atmosphere, oceans and other near-surface reservoirs is thought to be negligible compared to that stored in the Earth's mantle1,2,3. Although the mode of carbon storage in the mantle is largely unknown, observations of microbubbles on dislocations in minerals from mantle xenoliths has led to the suggestion that carbon may be soluble in silicates at high pressure4,5. Here we report measurements of carbon solubility in olivine, the major constituent of the upper mantle, at pressures up to 3.5 GPa. We have found that, contrary to previous expectations, carbon solubility in olivine is exceedingly low—of the order of 0.1 to 1 parts per million by weight. Together with similar data for pyroxenes, garnet and spinel, we interpret this to imply that most carbon must be present as a separate phase in the deeper parts of the upper mantle, probably as a carbonate phase6,7. Large-scale volcanic eruptions tapping such a carbonate-bearing mantle reservoir might therefore rapidly transfer large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, consistent with models that link global mass extinctions to flood basalt eruptions via a sudden increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels8,9,10,11.
Your institute does not have access to this article
Open Access articles citing this article.
Scientific Reports Open Access 12 February 2021
Nature Communications Open Access 05 December 2019
Scientific Reports Open Access 28 November 2017
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Javoy, M., Pineau, F. & Allègre, C. J. Carbon geodynamic cycle. Nature 300, 171–173 (1982)
Jambon, A. Earth degassing and large-scale geochemical cycling of volatile elements. Rev. Mineral. 30, 479–517 (1994)
Zhang, Y. & Zindler, A. Distribution and evolution of carbon and nitrogen in Earth. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 117, 331–345 (1993)
Green, H. W. A CO2-charged asthenosphere. Nature 238, 2–5 (1972)
Green, H. W. & Radcliffe, S. V. Fluid precipitates in rocks from the Earth's mantle. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 86, 846–852 (1975)
Newton, R. C. & Sharp, W. E. Stability of forsterite +CO2 and its bearing on the role of CO2 in the mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 26, 239–244 (1975)
Wyllie, P. J. & Huang, W. L. Carbonation and melting reactions in the system CaO-MgO-SiO2-CO2 at mantle pressures with geophysical and petrological applications. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 54, 79–107 (1976)
McElwain, J. C., Beerling, D. J. & Woodward, F. I. Fossil plants and global warming at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary. Science 285, 1386–1390 (1999)
Beerling, D. CO2 and the end-Triassic mass extinction. Nature 415, 386–387 (2002)
Marzoli, A. et al. Extensive 200-million-year-old continental flood basalts of the central Atlantic magmatic province. Science 284, 616–618 (1999)
Kerrick, D. M. Present and past nonanthropogenic CO2 degassing from the solid Earth. Rev. Geophys. 39, 565–585 (2001)
Freund, F., Kathrein, H., Wengeler, H., Knobel, R. & Heinen, H. J. Carbon in solid solution in forsterite — A key to the untraceable nature of reduced carbon in terrestrial and cosmogenic rocks. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 44, 1319–1333 (1980)
Mathez, E. A., Blacic, J. D., Berry, J., Hollander, M. & Maggiore, C. Carbon in olivine: Results from nuclear reaction analysis. J. Geophys. Res. 92, 3500–3506 (1987)
Tingle, T. N., Green, H. W. & Finnerty, A. A. Experiments and observations bearing on the solubility and diffusivity of carbon in olivine. J. Geophys. Res. 93, 15289–15304 (1988)
Tsong, I. S. T., Knipping, U., Loxton, C. M., Magee, C. W. & Arnold, G. W. Carbon on surfaces of magnesium oxide and olivine single crystals. Diffusion from the bulk or surface contamination? Phys. Chem. Minerals 12, 261–270 (1985)
Hauri, E. H., Shimizu, N., Dieu, J. J. & Hart, S. R. Evidence for hotspot-related carbonatite metasomatism in the oceanic upper mantle. Nature 365, 221–227 (1993)
Putnis, A. Introduction to Mineral Sciences (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1992)
Hauri, E., Gronvold, K., Oskarsson, N., McKenzie, D. Abundance of carbon in the Icelandic mantle: Constraints from melt inclusions. Eos 83, 383 (2002).
Saal, A. E., Hauri, E. H., Langmuir, C. H. & Perfit, M. R. Vapour undersaturation in primitive mid-ocean-ridge basalt and the volatile content of Earth's upper mantle. Nature 419, 451–455 (2002)
Bell, D. R. & Rossman, G. R. Water in the Earth's mantle: The role of nominally anhydrous minerals. Science 255, 1391–1397 (1992)
Kohlstedt, D. L., Keppler, H. & Rubie, D. C. Solubility of water in the α, β and γ phases of (Mg,Fe)2SiO4 . Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 123, 345–357 (1995)
We thank D. Frost for technical assistance with one multi-anvil experiment at Bayerisches Geoinstitut, Bayreuth; we also thank R. Brooker for comments and suggestions. This study was supported by the German Science Foundation (DFG, Leibniz award to H.K.).
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
Supplementary Figure 1: This figure shows infrared spectra (KBr-pellets) of isotopically normal Na2CO3, of Na2CO3 certified to contain 99 % of the isotope 13C and of the carbonate from a piston cylinder experiment. The samples rich in 13C probably exchanged some carbon dioxide with the air during preparation of the KBr-pellet. (PDF 465 kb)
Supplementary Table 1: This table gives measured isotopic and elemental ratios for the carbon-saturated forsterite samples together with their standard deviations. (DOC 37 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Keppler, H., Wiedenbeck, M. & Shcheka, S. Carbon solubility in olivine and the mode of carbon storage in the Earth's mantle. Nature 424, 414–416 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01828
Scientific Reports (2021)
Nature Communications (2019)
Physics and Chemistry of Minerals (2019)
Scientific Reports (2017)
Scientific Reports (2017)