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A deep mantle origin for the primitive signature of ocean island basalt


Seismological observations have identified large-scale compositional heterogeneities in the Earth’s deep mantle1,2,3,4,5. These heterogeneities may represent reservoirs of primitive material that differentiated early in Earth’s history6,7,8. The volcanic rocks that make up ocean islands are thought to be sourced, in part, from these deep reservoirs, with the primitive material transported to the surface via mantle plumes. Geochemical signatures within the erupted ocean island basalts further support the idea that the regions of heterogeneity are composed of primitive, undegassed mantle material7,9,10,11,12,13,14. Here we perform numerical experiments of thermo-chemical convection to simulate the entrainment of primitive material by plumes generated at the top of primitive reservoirs in the deep mantle. We vary the chemical density contrast between the primitive, undegassed and regular, degassed mantle materials. We find that the simulations that reproduce the observed geometry of the heterogeneous regions also explain the geochemical signatures measured in ocean island basalts. In these simulations, the entrainment of primitive material into the mantle plume does not exceed 9%. We conclude that the presence of primitive reservoirs in the deep mantle is dynamically feasible and satisfies both seismological and geochemical constraints.

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Figure 1: Isosurfaces of composition (left column) and residual temperature (right column) for two numerical experiments.
Figure 2: Power spectra (spherical harmonic degrees L=2, 4 and 6) of average chemical (left column) and thermal (right column) density anomalies in the lowermost layer (2,000≤d≤2,891 km) for four models.
Figure 3: Average altitude of primitive material 〈hC〉 as a function of time for four cases.
Figure 4: Entrainment of primitive material, defined as the fraction xPM of primitive material in plumes.

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We are grateful to A. McNamara and A. van den Berg for their useful and constructive comments and reviews. All thermo-chemical models of convection were calculated on ETH super-cluster Brutus.

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All three authors equally contributed to the project.

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Correspondence to Frédéric Deschamps.

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Deschamps, F., Kaminski, E. & Tackley, P. A deep mantle origin for the primitive signature of ocean island basalt. Nature Geosci 4, 879–882 (2011).

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