The global pattern of trace-element distributions in ocean floor basalts


The magmatic layers of the oceanic crust are created at constructive plate margins by partial melting of the mantle as it wells up. The chemistry of ocean floor basalts, the most accessible product of this magmatism, is studied for the insights it yields into the compositional heterogeneity of the mantle and its thermal structure. However, before eruption, parental magma compositions are modified at crustal pressures by a process that has usually been assumed to be fractional crystallization. Here we show that the global distributions of trace elements in ocean floor basalts describe a systematic pattern that cannot be explained by simple fractional crystallization alone, but is due to cycling of magma through the global ensemble of magma chambers. Variability in both major and incompatible trace-element contents about the average global pattern is due to fluctuations in the magma fluxes into and out of the chambers, and their depth, as well as to differences in the composition of the parental magmas.

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Figure 1: Global trends in ocean floor basalt (OFB) glasses.
Figure 2: Homogeneous relations among minor elements (Na, Ti, K and P) and rare earth elements (REEs) in OFB glasses.
Figure 3: Systematic relations between intercepts at 10% MgO, slopes and variabilities in OFB glasses.
Figure 4: The global ensemble of replenished and tapped magma chambers.
Figure 5: Testing the model.


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This work was funded by the Australian National University. I. Campbell, R. Arculus, S. Turner, R. Carlson and E. Hauri are thanked for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and the final presentation has benefited from reviews by A. Hofmann and W. McDonough.

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Both authors contributed extensively to the work presented in this paper.

Correspondence to Hugh St C. O’Neill.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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St C. O’Neill, H., Jenner, F. The global pattern of trace-element distributions in ocean floor basalts. Nature 491, 698–704 (2012).

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