Letter | Published:

The oxidation state of the mantle and the extraction of carbon from Earth’s interior

Nature volume 493, pages 8488 (03 January 2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Determining the oxygen fugacity of Earth’s silicate mantle is of prime importance because it affects the speciation and mobility of volatile elements in the interior and has controlled the character of degassing species from the Earth since the planet’s formation1. Oxygen fugacities recorded by garnet-bearing peridotite xenoliths from Archaean lithosphere are of particular interest, because they provide constraints on the nature of volatile-bearing metasomatic fluids and melts active in the oldest mantle samples, including those in which diamonds are found2,3. Here we report the results of experiments to test garnet oxythermobarometry equilibria4,5 under high-pressure conditions relevant to the deepest mantle xenoliths. We present a formulation for the most successful equilibrium and use it to determine an accurate picture of the oxygen fugacity through cratonic lithosphere. The oxygen fugacity of the deepest rocks is found to be at least one order of magnitude more oxidized than previously estimated. At depths where diamonds can form, the oxygen fugacity is not compatible with the stability of either carbonate- or methane-rich liquid but is instead compatible with a metasomatic liquid poor in carbonate and dominated by either water or silicate melt. The equilibrium also indicates that the relative oxygen fugacity of garnet-bearing rocks will increase with decreasing depth during adiabatic decompression. This implies that carbon in the asthenospheric mantle will be hosted as graphite or diamond but will be oxidized to produce carbonate melt through the reduction of Fe3+ in silicate minerals during upwelling. The depth of carbonate melt formation will depend on the ratio of Fe3+ to total iron in the bulk rock. This ‘redox melting’ relationship has important implications for the onset of geophysically detectable incipient melting and for the extraction of carbon dioxide from the mantle through decompressive melting.

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Acknowledgements

Financial support was provided to V.S. by the European Commission under the Marie Curie Action for Early Stage Training of Researchers within the 6th Framework Programme (contract number MEST-CT-2005-019700) and by the German Science Foundation (grant FR1555/5-1).

Author information

Author notes

    • Vincenzo Stagno

    Present address: Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington DC 20015, USA.

Affiliations

  1. Bayerisches Geoinstitut, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth D-95440, Germany

    • Vincenzo Stagno
    • , Dickson O. Ojwang
    • , Catherine A. McCammon
    •  & Daniel J. Frost

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Contributions

V.S. and D.J.F. wrote the paper. V.S. performed most of the experiments, analytical measurements and calculations. D.O.O. performed high-pressure experiments. C.A.M. collected and interpreted Mössbauer data. D.J.F. developed the thermodynamic model.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel J. Frost.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

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    Supplementary Data

    This file contains the thermodynamic model developed in this study and also the calculation for the fo2 of a garnet peridotite assemblage.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11679

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