A light carbon reservoir recorded in zircon-hosted diamond from the Jack Hills


The recent discovery of diamond–graphite inclusions in the Earth’s oldest zircon grains (formed up to 4,252 Myr ago) from the Jack Hills metasediments in Western Australia1 provides a unique opportunity to investigate Earth’s earliest known carbon reservoir. Here we report ion microprobe analyses of the carbon isotope composition of these diamond–graphite inclusions. The observed δ13CPDB values (expressed using the PeeDee Belemnite standard) range between -5 per mil and -58 per mil with a median of -31 per mil. This extends beyond typical mantle values of around -6 per mil to values observed in metamorphic and some eclogitic diamonds that are interpreted to reflect deep subduction of low-δ13CPDB biogenic surface carbon. Low δ13CPDB values may also be produced by inorganic chemical reactions2, and therefore are not unambiguous evidence for life on Earth as early as 4,250 Myr ago. Regardless, our results suggest that a low-δ13CPDB reservoir may have existed on the early Earth.

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Figure 1: δ 13 C PDB values of diamond–graphite inclusions.


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This project was supported by the Curtin University internal research grant to A.A.N. We thank I. Fitzsimons and P. Kinny for their comments on the earlier version of the manuscript. SYNAL diamond used as a reference in this study was kindly provided by J. Craven of the Edinburgh University Ion Microprobe Facility. The Nordsim facility is operated and funded under an agreement by the joint Nordic research councils (NOS-N); this is Nordsim contribution 200.

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Correspondence to Alexander A. Nemchin.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

The file contains Supplementary Tables S1-S2 and supplementary Figures S1-S7 with Legends. Table S1 provides results of cross calibration of graphite and diamond reference materials. Table S2 analyses of all inclusions in the run order. Figures S1, S2 and S3 show cathodoluminescence images of all zircon grains containing analysed inclusions. Figure S4 shows results of cross calibration of graphite and diamond reference materials. Figure S5 showis relationship between the secondary beam intensity and the measured 13C in analysed inclusions. Figure S5 shows comparison of multiple analyses of some inclusions. Figure S6 and S7 show results of multiple analyses of inclusions in grains JH3-124 and JH3-134. (PDF 2976 kb)

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Nemchin, A., Whitehouse, M., Menneken, M. et al. A light carbon reservoir recorded in zircon-hosted diamond from the Jack Hills. Nature 454, 92–95 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07102

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