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Evolution of helium isotopes in the Earth's mantle


Degassing of the Earth's mantle through magmatism results in the irreversible loss of helium to space, and high 3He/4He ratios observed in oceanic basalts have been considered the main evidence for a ‘primordial’ undegassed deep mantle reservoir. Here we present a new global data compilation of ocean island basalts, representing upwelling ‘plumes’ from the deep mantle, and show that island groups with the highest primordial signal (high 3He/4He ratios) have striking chemical and isotopic similarities to mid-ocean-ridge basalts. We interpret this as indicating a common history of mantle trace element depletion through magmatism. The high 3He/4He in plumes may thus reflect incomplete degassing of the deep Earth during continent and ocean crust formation. We infer that differences between plumes and the upper-mantle source of ocean-ridge basalts reflect isolation of plume sources from the convecting mantle for 1–2 Gyr. An undegassed, primordial reservoir in the mantle would therefore not be required, thus reconciling a long-standing contradiction in mantle dynamics.

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Figure 1: Nd–Pb–He isotopes of OIB and MORB.
Figure 2: Th, Th/La, SiO 2 and helium isotope ratios of OIB and MORB.
Figure 3: 3 He/ 4 He –Th of OIB and MORB.
Figure 4: Helium isotope evolution of mantle reservoirs.
Figure 5: Plume source formation ages from the incomplete degassing model.


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We thank A. Abedini for sharing her noble gas database; W. White and D. Graham for comments that helped to improve the manuscript; A.W. Hofmann and A. Class for discussions. This study was supported by National Science Foundation grants. This is LDEO Contribution number 6791.

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Correspondence to Cornelia Class.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

Details of global data compilation and data filters, grouping of ocean island into helium isotope groups. Details of model calculation of the incomplete degassing model for the Earth' mantle, as well as calculation of plume source formation ages. Discussion of consistency of neon isotopes with the incomplete degassing model. This file also contains additional references. (DOC 82 kb)

Supplementary Figure S1

Neon-helium isotope relationships in OIB and MORB. This figure shows that neon data are consistent with range of helium isotope ratios reflecting variable production rates of radiogenic 4He in plume sources with variable Th+U. (DOC 165 kb)

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Class, C., Goldstein, S. Evolution of helium isotopes in the Earth's mantle. Nature 436, 1107–1112 (2005).

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