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Intensive hydration of the mantle transition zone beneath China caused by ancient slab stagnation

Nature Geoscience volume 4, pages 713716 (2011) | Download Citation


The mantle transition zone, located at depths of 410–660 km between the lower and upper mantle, is an important water reservoir in the Earth’s interior1,2,3,4. However, there are regional-scale heterogeneities in the distribution of water4,5. The zone beneath northeast China, in particular, is remarkably hydrous4, but when and how it became hydrous remains uncertain. Here we combine analyses of the geochemistry of late Cenozoic basalts in northeast China with published geochemical analyses. We find a spatial correlation between basalt geochemistry and the distribution of a low-velocity zone in the underlying mantle that is interpreted as a plume upwelling from the mantle transition zone6. We therefore use the basalt geochemistry to infer the composition of the mantle transition zone. The basalts have high Ba/Th and 207Pb/206Pb ratios, which we suggest record an ancient hydration event in the transition zone that occurred more than one billion years ago, probably as a result of dehydration of a subducted slab. We suggest that this ancient hydration event, combined with a more recent hydration event linked to dehydration of the subducted Pacific slab7, can account for the hydrous nature of the mantle transition zone beneath China. Our results demonstrate that the mantle transition zone can remain as a stable water reservoir in Earth’s interior for timescales of more than a billion years.

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We thank D. Zhao, S. Karato, and T. Yoshida for useful discussion, and K. Putirka for constructive comments. This work was supported by the program ‘Global Center of Excellence’ of Tohoku University.

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  1. Department of Earth Science, Graduate School of Science, Tohoku University, Sendai 980-8578, Japan

    • Takeshi Kuritani
    •  & Eiji Ohtani
  2. Division of Biology and Geosciences, Graduate School of Science, Osaka City University, Osaka 558-8585, Japan

    • Takeshi Kuritani
  3. Institute for Research on Earth Evolution, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokosuka 237-0061, Japan

    • Jun-Ichi Kimura


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This paper is the product of research conducted by T.K. under the support of the program ‘Global Center of Excellence’ of Tohoku University. All three authors contributed to the interpretation of the data and to the writing of the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Takeshi Kuritani.

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