The origin of the terrestrial noble-gas signature

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In the atmospheres of Earth and Mars, xenon is strongly depleted relative to argon, when compared to the abundances in chondritic meteorites1,2. The origin of this depletion is poorly understood3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. Here we show that more than one weight per cent of argon may be dissolved in MgSiO3 perovskite, the most abundant phase of Earth’s lower mantle, whereas the xenon solubility in MgSiO3 perovskite is orders of magnitude lower. We therefore suggest that crystallization of perovskite from a magma ocean in the very early stages of Earth’s history concentrated argon in the lower mantle. After most of the primordial atmosphere had been lost, degassing of the lower mantle replenished argon and krypton, but not xenon, in the atmosphere. Our model implies that the depletion of xenon relative to argon indicates that perovskite crystallized from a magma ocean in the early history of Earth and perhaps also Mars.

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Figure 1: Scanning electron microscope images of MgSiO 3 perovskite samples saturated with noble gases.
Figure 2: A lattice-strain model 29 of noble-gas solubility in MgSiO 3 perovskite.
Figure 3: A sample containing phase X (phX) coexisting with MgSiO 3 ilmenite (Ilm), SiO 2 stishovite (St) and K 2 CO 3 carbonate.


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This work was supported by the German Science Foundation (DFG, SPP 1236). We thank A. Audetat for measurements of Kr and Xe by laser-ablation ICP-MS, N. Miyajima for help with TEM studies of the samples and T. Boffa-Ballaran for preliminary X-ray data of Ar-bearing perovskite.

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S.S.S. carried out all experiments and chemical analyses reported in this paper. H.K. suggested this study. Both authors wrote the manuscript together.

Correspondence to Svyatoslav S. Shcheka.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Shcheka, S., Keppler, H. The origin of the terrestrial noble-gas signature. Nature 490, 531–534 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11506

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