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Chondritic xenon in the Earth’s mantle


Noble gas isotopes are powerful tracers of the origins of planetary volatiles, and the accretion and evolution of the Earth. The compositions of magmatic gases provide insights into the evolution of the Earth’s mantle and atmosphere1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Despite recent analytical progress in the study of planetary materials8,9 and mantle-derived gases2,3,4,5,6,7, the possible dual origin1,10 of the planetary gases in the mantle and the atmosphere remains unconstrained. Evidence relating to the relationship between the volatiles within our planet and the potential cosmochemical end-members is scarce5. Here we show, using high-precision analysis of magmatic gas from the Eifel volcanic area (in Germany), that the light xenon isotopes identify a chondritic primordial component that differs from the precursor of atmospheric xenon. This is consistent with an asteroidal origin for the volatiles in the Earth’s mantle, and indicates that the volatiles in the atmosphere and mantle originated from distinct cosmochemical sources. Furthermore, our data are consistent with the origin of Eifel magmatism being a deep mantle plume. The corresponding mantle source has been isolated from the convective mantle since about 4.45 billion years ago, in agreement with models that predict the early isolation of mantle domains11. Xenon isotope systematics support a clear distinction between mid-ocean-ridge and continental or oceanic plume sources6, with chemical heterogeneities dating back to the Earth’s accretion1,7. The deep reservoir now sampled by the Eifel gas had a lower volatile/refractory (iodine/plutonium) composition than the shallower mantle sampled by mid-ocean-ridge volcanism, highlighting the increasing contribution of volatile-rich material during the first tens of millions of years of terrestrial accretion.

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Figure 1: Xe isotope composition of the Victoriaquelle gas.
Figure 2: Light Xe isotope correlations.
Figure 3: Differences in the Xe isotopic compositions of the MORB and mantle plume reservoirs.


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This work is dedicated to Peter G. Burnard, who passed away after the submission of the manuscript. This study was supported by the Instituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, by the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013 grant agreement no. 267255) and by the Deep Carbon Observatory. D. L. Hamilton helped in setting up the new mass spectrometry system at CRPG. This is CRPG contribution #2413.

Author information




A.C., P.G.B. and B.M. designed the study. A.C. collected the samples, performed the experiments and analysed the data. G.A. processed the data and wrote the section on the processing procedure in Methods. A.C., P.G.B., G.A. and B.M. wrote the paper. E.F. collected the samples. All authors contributed to the interpretation and discussion of the data and provided comments on and input to the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Antonio Caracausi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Data obtained in this study are available at the EarthChem library (

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Residuals of the different mixing possibilities.

Calculations were performed for the light isotopes (124–128Xe) using the isotopic compositions of air (typically about 87%) and Q-Xe, AVCC-Xe or SW-Xe (typically about 13%). The best fit is achieved by taking either AVCC-Xe or Q-Xe as the primordial component. SW-Xe does not produce an adequate fit and therefore is not a suitable candidate for this component (as also shown in Fig. 1).

Extended Data Figure 2 Deconvolution of the proportion of the primordial component (Q-Xe) relative to the atmosphere for 124Xe/130Xe.

The red line represents the result of the normal fit. The solid green line depicts the mean value and the dashed green lines depict the error range of ±1σ.

Extended Data Figure 3 Range of χ2 values obtained from the simulations.

Approximately 75% of the values are less than 3.

Extended Data Figure 4 Fraction of initial component required to fit the isotopic composition of the Eifel gas.

The solid green line depicts the mean value and the dashed green lines depict the error range of ±1σ.

Extended Data Figure 5 Fraction of Pu-Xe required to fit the isotopic composition of the Eifel gas.

Some very low values (those less than 10−5) were excluded from the calculations, resulting in a mean of 2.26% (green line) and a standard deviation of 0.28% (1σ).

Extended Data Figure 6 Isotopic composition of heavy isotopes (131–134Xe).

The data are normalized to 136Xe of the Eifel gas after correction for atmospheric and primitive chondritic contributions, and compared to the fission spectrum of 131–136Xe produced by spontaneous fission of 238U and 244Pu. Excesses in heavy isotopes are compatible with spontaneous fission of 244Pu.

Extended Data Figure 7 Closure ages calculated from the 129XeI/136XePu ratios.

See Methods for details of the computation method. A younger closure age for the upper mantle is achieved only if the I/Pu ratio is at least 3.5 times higher than the lower-mantle source.

Extended Data Table 1 Xenon isotopic ratios measured in aliquots of the Eifel gas

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Caracausi, A., Avice, G., Burnard, P. et al. Chondritic xenon in the Earth’s mantle. Nature 533, 82–85 (2016).

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