Primordial helium entrained by the hottest mantle plumes

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Helium isotopes provide an important tool for tracing early-Earth, primordial reservoirs that have survived in the planet’s interior1,2,3. Volcanic hotspot lavas, like those erupted at Hawaii and Iceland, can host rare, high 3He/4He isotopic ratios (up to 50 times4 the present atmospheric ratio, Ra) compared to the lower 3He/4He ratios identified in mid-ocean-ridge basalts that form by melting the upper mantle (about 8Ra; ref. 5). A long-standing hypothesis maintains that the high-3He/4He domain resides in the deep mantle6,7,8, beneath the upper mantle sampled by mid-ocean-ridge basalts, and that buoyantly upwelling plumes from the deep mantle transport high-3He/4He material to the shallow mantle beneath plume-fed hotspots. One problem with this hypothesis is that, while some hotspots have 3He/4He values ranging from low to high, other hotspots exhibit only low 3He/4He ratios. Here we show that, among hotspots suggested to overlie mantle plumes9,10, those with the highest maximum 3He/4He ratios have high hotspot buoyancy fluxes and overlie regions with seismic low-velocity anomalies in the upper mantle11, unlike plume-fed hotspots with only low maximum 3He/4He ratios. We interpret the relationships between 3He/4He values, hotspot buoyancy flux, and upper-mantle shear wave velocity to mean that hot plumes—which exhibit seismic low-velocity anomalies at depths of 200 kilometres—are more buoyant and entrain both high-3He/4He and low-3He/4He material. In contrast, cooler, less buoyant plumes do not entrain this high-3He/4He material. This can be explained if the high-3He/4He domain is denser than low-3He/4He mantle components hosted in plumes, and if high-3He/4He material is entrained from the deep mantle only by the hottest, most buoyant plumes12. Such a dense, deep-mantle high-3He/4He domain could remain isolated from the convecting mantle13,14, which may help to explain the preservation of early Hadean (>4.5 billion years ago) geochemical anomalies in lavas sampling this reservoir1,2,3.

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Figure 1: The maximum 3He/4He values at 38 hotspots organized in order of decreasing maximum 3He/4He.
Figure 2: Map showing the maximum 3He/4He values at global hotspots.
Figure 3: Maximum 3He/4He values at plume-fed hotspots compared with seismic shear-wave velocity anomalies at 200 km and with hotspot buoyancy flux.


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R. G. Blotkamp inspired and guided fundamental development. We thank C. Dalton, M. Edwards, S. Grand, S. Halldórsson, C. Ji, M. Manga, A. McNamara, A. Reinhard, J. Ritsema, B. Romanowicz, R. Rudnick, F. Spera, T. Tanimoto, P. van Keken, C. Williams and Q. Williams for discussion. The 2016 CIDER programme at University of California Santa Barbara is acknowledged for providing a venue for interdisciplinary collaboration. Constructive comments from D. Graham and S. King improved the manuscript. M.G.J. acknowledges grants from NSF that funded this research (EAR-1347377 and EAR-1624840). T.W.B. was supported in part by grants EAR-1460479 and EAR-1338329, and J.G.K. by OCE-1538121.

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All authors contributed equally to the manuscript.

Correspondence to M. G. Jackson.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks D. Graham and S. King for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Maps showing the maximum 3He/4He at global hotspots.

The magnitude of maximum 3He/4He values, for plume-fed (red circles) and non-plume-fed (cyan diamonds) hotspots, scale with the size of the symbol (see Supplementary Table 1). The scale shows the how the size of the symbol scales with the magnitude of the 3He/4He values, and shows 5Ra, 15Ra and 25Ra increments as examples. See the source data for this figure, in Supplementary Table 1, which cites refs 4, 9, 10, 19, 20, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 57, 58, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106. Hotspots in Fig. 1 (see Supplementary Table 1) not evaluated for the presence of a plume are represented by orange symbols. Three different methods are used to determine whether or not a hotspot is associated with a plume: the F&R plume catalogue9 (top panel), the Boschi-1 plume catalogue10 using SMEAN25 (middle panel), and the Boschi-2 plume catalogue10 that uses five different seismic models (bottom panel). The background of the maps is contoured (greyscale) based on seismic anomalies (δv) at 200 km for the SMEAN2 seismic model. The three panels use the same 3He/4He database (see Fig. 1 and Supplementary Table 1). The middle panel is also shown as Fig. 3.

Extended Data Figure 2 Maximum 3He/4He at hotspots compared with seismic velocity anomalies at 200 km.

Data are taken from several global seismic models (SMEAN2, GyPSum-S64, S40RTS63, SAVANI65, SEMUCB-WM19 and SMEAN25) and three plume classification schemes from refs 9 and 10. See the source data for this figure, in Supplementary Table 1, which cites refs 4, 9, 10, 19, 20, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 57, 58, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106. The Pearson (r) and Spearman rank (rS) correlation coefficients are provided in the panels and are calculated from individual observations for plume-fed hotspots (for the red symbols only), non-plume-fed hotspots (blue symbols), and all hotspots (red and blue symbols); the text in boxes provides information about correlation coefficients for plume-fed hotspots only (red text), non-plume-fed hotspots only (blue text), and all hotspots (black text). Spearman correlation coefficients provide more reliable estimates of correlation in the presence of nonlinear relationships, but results for r and rS are generally consistent. To evaluate the actual statistical relevance of the correlations, the 1σ uncertainty is provided (calculated using bootstrap), as is the significance level of the correlation coefficients; this P value (in parentheses, given in per cent) is calculated with Student’s t-test assuming normally distributed data. In each panel, the presence or absence of a plume depends on the plume catalogue used (see Fig. 1 and Supplementary Table 1): The left panels use the F&R plume catalogue9 (Fig. 1); the middle panels use the Boschi-1 plume catalogue10, which has normalized vertical extent values NVE ≥ 0.5 as derived from the SMEAN model (Fig. 1); the right panels use the Boschi-2 plume catalogue10, which relies on the average NVE calculated from five different seismic models (Fig. 1), and defines plumes as having NVE ≥ 0.5. The sample sizes for the Boschi-1, Boschi-2 and F&R plume catalogues are as follows: Boschi-1 (n = 23 plumes, n = 9 non-plumes), Boschi-2 (n = 21 plumes, n = 11 non-plumes), F&R (n = 27 plumes, n = 11 non-plumes). All panels use the same 3He/4He database (see Supplementary Table 1). The panels showing SMEAN2 seismic anomalies at 200 km for the Boschi-1 and -2 plume catalogues10 are also shown as Fig. 3.

Extended Data Figure 3 Maximum 3He/4He at hotspots versus hotspot buoyancy flux.

Correlation values and plume selection as in Extended Data Fig. 2. See the source data for this figure, in Supplementary Table 1, which cites refs 4, 9, 10, 19, 20, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 45, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 57, 58, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106. Hotspot buoyancy flux models are from ref. 24, and include the ‘geometrical’ hotspot buoyancy flux, the ‘MiFil area’ buoyancy flux, and the ‘MiFil volume’ buoyancy flux. Because hotspot buoyancy fluxes are not available for the Manus Basin locality, the sample sizes for the Boschi-1, Boschi-2 and F&R plume catalogues are as follows: Boschi-1 (n = 23 plumes, n = 9 non-plumes), Boschi-2 (n = 21 plumes, n = 11 non-plumes), F&R (n = 26 plumes, n = 11 non-plumes). The panels showing MiFil volume hotspot buoyancy flux for the Boschi-1 and -2 plume catalogues10 are also shown in Fig. 3.

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Jackson, M., Konter, J. & Becker, T. Primordial helium entrained by the hottest mantle plumes. Nature 542, 340–343 (2017) doi:10.1038/nature21023

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