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Helium solubility in olivine and implications for high 3He/4He in ocean island basalts


High 3He/4He ratios found in ocean island basalts are the main evidence for the existence of an undegassed mantle reservoir1,2,3. However, models of helium isotope evolution depend critically on the chemical behaviour of helium during mantle melting. It is generally assumed that helium is strongly enriched in mantle melts relative to uranium and thorium, yet estimates of helium partitioning in mantle minerals have produced conflicting results4,5,6. Here we present experimental measurements of helium solubility in olivine at atmospheric pressure. Natural and synthetic olivines were equilibrated with a 50% helium atmosphere and analysed by crushing in vacuo followed by melting, and yield a minimum olivine–melt partition coefficient of 0.0025 ± 0.0005 (s.d.) and a maximum of 0.0060 ± 0.0007 (s.d.). The results indicate that helium might be more compatible than uranium and thorium during mantle melting and that high 3He/4He ratios can be preserved in depleted residues of melting. A depleted source for high 3He/4He ocean island basalts would resolve the apparent discrepancy7 in the relative helium concentrations of ocean island and mid-ocean-ridge basalts.

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We thank J. Curtice for his long labours with the He analyses, and J. van Orman for assistance in the early planning and execution of the project. This research was supported by the NSF. Author Contributions S.W.P. and T.L.G. performed the experiments and microscopic observations. M.D.K. performed the He analysis. S.R.H. contributed to experimental and analytical design. All authors contributed to data analysis.

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Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to Stephen W. Parman.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

This table contains the run conditions of the experiments reported in the paper. (DOC 30 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

This table contains the analyses of the experiments. (DOC 88 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

This table contains the references used to calculate the average partition coefficients shown in Figure 4. (DOC 23 kb)

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Further reading

Figure 1: Age versus He isotope ratios for two different helium isotopic evolution models.
Figure 2: Plot of helium content of experimental olivines against the calculated olivine–melt D He for the data of ref.4 (filled diamonds) and the present study (filled triangles).
Figure 3: Helium released from experimental olivine grains during crushing and melting.
Figure 4: Partition coefficients for U (squares), Th (circles) and He (filled circles and field) relevant to mantle melting.


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