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Non-chondritic sulphur isotope composition of the terrestrial mantle



Core–mantle differentiation is the largest event experienced by a growing planet during its early history. Terrestrial core segregation imprinted the residual mantle composition by scavenging siderophile (iron-loving) elements such as tungsten, cobalt and sulphur. Cosmochemical constraints suggest that about 97% of Earth’s sulphur should at present reside in the core1, which implies that the residual silicate mantle should exhibit fractionated 34S/32S ratios according to the relevant metal–silicate partition coefficients2, together with fractionated siderophile element abundances. However, Earth’s mantle has long been thought to be both homogeneous and chondritic for 34S/32S, similar to Canyon Diablo troilite3,4,5,6, as it is for most siderophile elements. This belief was consistent with a mantle sulphur budget dominated by late-accreted chondritic components. Here we show that the mantle, as sampled by mid-ocean ridge basalts from the south Atlantic ridge, displays heterogeneous 34S/32S ratios, directly correlated to the strontium and neodymium isotope ratios 87Sr/86Sr and 143Nd/144Nd. These isotope trends are compatible with binary mixing between a low-34S/32S ambient mantle and a high-34S/32S recycled component that we infer to be subducted sediments. The depleted end-member is characterized by a significantly negative δ34S of −1.28 ± 0.33‰ that cannot reach a chondritic value even when surface sulphur (from continents, altered oceanic crust, sediments and oceans) is added. Such a non-chondritic 34S/32S ratio for the silicate Earth could be accounted for by a core–mantle differentiation record in which the core has a 34S/32S ratio slightly higher than that of chondrites (δ34S = +0.07‰). Despite evidence for late-veneer addition of siderophile elements (and therefore sulphur) after core formation, our results imply that the mantle sulphur budget retains fingerprints of core–mantle differentiation.

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Figure 1: δ34S versus 87Sr/86Sr and 143Nd/144Nd.
Figure 2: Core–mantle sulphur partitioning model in batch equilibrium or open system.


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Support from the Region Ile de France (Sesame), CNRS (INSU-Mi-lourd and SEDIT-CNRS) and IPGP (BQR) is acknowledged. We thank M. G. Jackson for a review. We thank D. Calmels and M. Clog for discussion and comments. We also thank P. Richet, M. Chaussidon and P. Agrinier for comments on an early version of the manuscript. This is IPGP contribution number 3415.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.L. performed sulphur isotope measurements. J.L. and M.M. performed sample preparation. P.C. conceived the project. J.L. took the lead in writing the paper, with substantial contributions from P.C. and M.M.

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Correspondence to J. Labidi.

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This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary References, Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures 1-6. (PDF 1012 kb)

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Labidi, J., Cartigny, P. & Moreira, M. Non-chondritic sulphur isotope composition of the terrestrial mantle. Nature 501, 208–211 (2013).

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