The bulk composition of the silicate part of Earth has long been linked to chondritic meteorites. Ordinary chondrites — the most abundant meteorite class — are thought to represent planetary building materials. However, a landmark discovery showed that the 142Nd/144Nd ratio of the accessible parts of the modern terrestrial mantle on Earth is greater than that of ordinary chondrites. If Earth was derived from these precursors, mass balance requires that a missing reservoir with 142Nd/144Nd lower than ordinary chondrites was isolated from the accessible mantle within 20 to 30 million years of accretion. This reservoir would host the equivalent of the modern continents' budget of radioactive heat-producing elements (uranium, thorium and potassium), yet has not been discovered. We argue that this reservoir could have been lost to space by ablation from early impactors. If so, Earth's radiogenic heat generation is between 18 and 45% lower than estimates based on a chondritic composition. Calculations of Earth's thermal history that incorporate such reduced radiogenic heating are consistent with a transition to the current plate tectonic mode in the past 2.5 billion years or so, a late onset of the dynamo and an evolving rate of volcanic outgassing consistent with Earth's long-term habitable climate. Reduced heat production compared with Venus and Mars could also explain aspects of the differences between the current climatic regimes of these planets and Earth.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Space Science Reviews Open Access 28 November 2022
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $9.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Campbell, I. H. & O'Neill, H. S. C. Evidence against a chondritic Earth. Nature 483, 553–558 (2012).
Bouvier, A., Vervoort, J. D. & Patchett, P. J. The Lu–Hf and Sm–Nd isotopic composition of CHUR: constraints from unequilibrated chondrites and implications for the bulk composition of terrestrial planets. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 273, 48–57 (2008).
McDonough, W. F. & Sun, S. S. The composition of the Earth. Chem. Geol. 120, 223–253 (1995).
Caro, G. Early silicate Earth differentiation. Annu. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci. 39, 31–58 (2011).
Bouhifd, M. A. et al. Superchondritic Sm/Nd ratio of the Earth: Impact of Earth's core formation. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 413, 158–166 (2015).
Kinoshita, N. et al. A shorter 146Sm half-life measured and implications for 146Sm-142Nd chronology of the solar system. Science 335, 1614–1617 (2012).
Andreasen, R. & Sharma, M. Mixing and homogenization in the early solar system: Clues from Sr, Ba, Nd and Sm isotopes in meteorites. Astrophys. J. 665, 874–883 (2007).
Carlson, R. W., Boyet, M. & Horan, M. Chondrite barium, neodymium, and samarium isotopic heterogeneity and early Earth differentiation. Science 316, 1175–1178 (2007).
Boyet, M. & Carlson, R. 142Nd evidence for early (>4.53 Ga) global differentiation of the silicate Earth. Science 309, 576–581 (2005).
Boyet, M. & Carlson, R. W. A new geochemical model for the Earth's mantle inferred from 146Sm–144Nd systematics. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 250, 254–268 (2006).
Carlson, R. W. & Boyet, M. Composition of the Earth's interior: the importance of early events. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 4077–4103 (2008).
Jackson, M. G. & Carlson, R. An ancient recipe for flood basalt genesis. Nature 476, 316–319 (2011).
Andreasen, R., Sharma, M., Subbarao, K. V. & Viladkar, S. G. Where on Earth is the enriched Hadean reservoir? Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 266, 14–28 (2008).
Caro, G. & Bourdon, B. Non-chondritic Sm/Nd ratio in the terrestrial planets: consequences for the geochemical evolution of the mantle–crust system. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 74, 3333–3349 (2010).
Jackson, M. G. et al. Evidence for the survival of the oldest terrestrial mantle reservoir. Nature 466, 853–856 (2010).
O'Neill, H. S. C. & Palme, H. Collisional erosion and the non-chondritic composition of the terrestrial planets. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 366, 4205–4238 (2008).
Carlson, R. W. et al. How did early Earth become our modern world? Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 42, 151–178 (2014).
Caro, G., Bourdon, B., Halliday, A. N. & Quitte, G. Super-chondritic Sm/Nd ratios in Mars, the Earth and the Moon. Nature 452, 336–339 (2008).
Bonsor, A. et al. A collisional origin to Earth's non-chondritic composition? Icarus, 247, 291–300 (2015).
Jackson, M. G. & Jellinek, A. M. Major and trace element composition of the high 3He/4He mantle: Implications for the composition of the bulk silicate Earth. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 14, 2954–2976 (2013).
Shirey, S. B., Kamber, B. S., Whitehouse, M. J., Mueller, P. A. & Basu, A. R. A review of the isotopic and trace element evidence for mantle and crustal processes in the Hadean and Archean: Implications for the onset of plate tectonic subduction. Geol. Soc. Am. Spec. Pap. 440, 1–29 (2008).
Huang, S., Jacobsen, S. B. & Mukhopadhyay, S. 147Sm-143Nd systematics of Earth are inconsistent with a superchondritic Sm/Nd ratio. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 4929–4934 (2013).
Rizo, H., Boyet, M., Blichert-Toft, J. & Rosing, M. Combined Nd and Hf isotope evidence for deep-seated source of Isua lavas. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 312, 267–279 (2011).
Caro, G., Bourdon, B., Wood, B. J. & Corgne, A. Trace-element fractionation in Hadean mantle generated by melt segregation from a magma ocean. Nature 436, 246–249 (2005).
Šrámek, O. et al. Geophysical and geochemical constraints on geoneutrino fluxes from Earth's mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 361, 356–366 (2013).
Javoy, M. & Kaminski, E. Earth's Uranium and Thorium content and geoneutrinos fluxes based on enstatite chondrites. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 407, 1–8 (2014).
Labrosse, J. W., Hernlund, J. & Coltice, N. A Crystallizing dense magma ocean at the base of Earth's mantle. Nature 450, 866–869 (2007).
Coltice, N., Moreira, M., Hernlund, J. & Labrosse, S. Crystallization of a basal magma ocean recorded by helium and neon. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 308, 193–199 (2011).
Hernlund, J. W. & McNamara, A. K. in Treatise on Geophysics (eds Bercovici, D. & Schubert, G.) Vol. 8, 461–519 (Elsevier, 2015).
Willis, A. P., Sreenivasan, B. & Gubbins, D. Thermal core-mantle interaction: Exploring regimes for locked dynamo action. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 165, 83–92 (2007).
Li, Z. X. & Zhong, S. Supercontinent–superplume coupling, true polar wander and plume mobility: Plate dominance in whole-mantle tectonics. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 176, 143–156 (2009).
Olson, P. L., Coe, R. S., Driscoll, P. E., Glatzmaier, G. A. & Roberts, P. H. Geodynamo reversal frequency and heterogeneous core-mantle boundary heat flow. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 180, 66–79 (2010).
Sreenivasan, B. & Jellinek, A. M. Did the Tharsis plume terminate the Martian dynamo? Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 349–350, 209–217 (2012).
Aubert, J., Tarduno, J. A. & Johnson, C. L. Observations and models of the long-term evolution of Earth's magnetic field. Space Sci. Rev. 155, 337–370 (2010).
Jellinek, A. M. & Manga, M. Links between long-lived hotspots, mantle plumes, D", and plate tectonics. Revs. Geophys. 42, RG3002 (2004).
Rizo, H. et al. The elusive Hadean enriched reservoir revealed by 142Nd deficits in Isua Archaean rocks. Nature 491, 96–100 (2013).
Debaille V. et al. Stagnant-lid tectonics in early Earth revealed by 142Nd variations in late Archean rocks. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 373, 83–92 (2013).
Bennett, V. C., Brandon, A. D. & Nutman, A. P. Coupled 142Nd-143Nd isotopic evidence for Hadean mantle dynamics. Science 318, 1907–1910 (2007).
Jackson, M. G. & Carlson, R. W. Homogeneous superchondritic 142Nd/144Nd in the mid-ocean ridge basalt and ocean island basalt mantle. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 13, Q06011 (2012).
Murphy, D. T., Brandon, A. D., Debaille, V., Burgess, R. & Ballentine, C. 142Nd/144Nd reservoir in the deep mantle: Implications for the Nd isotope systematics of the Earth. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 74, 738–750 (2010).
Caro, G., Bourdon, B., Birck, J. L. & Moorbath, S. High-precision 142Nd/144Nd measurements in terrestrial rocks: Constraints on the early differentiation of the Earth's mantle. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 70, 164–191 (2006).
Touboul, M., Puchtel, I. S. & Walker, R. J. Tungsten isotopic evidence for disproportional late accretion to the Earth and Moon. Nature 520, 530–533 (2015).
Kruijer, T. S., Kleine, T., Fischer-Gödde, M. & Spring, P. Lunar tungsten isotopic evidence for the late veneer. Nature 520, 534–537 (2015).
Touboul, M., Puchtel, I. S. & Walker, R. J. 182W evidence for long-term preservation of early mantle differentiation products. Science 335, 1065–1069 (2012).
Willbold, M., Elliott, T. & Moorbath, S. The tungsten isotopic composition of the Earth's mantle before the terminal bombardment. Nature 477, 195–198 (2011).
Cuk, M. & Stewart, S. T. Making the moon from a fast-spinning Earth: A giant impact followed by resonant despinning. Science 338, 1047–1052 (2012).
Wohlers, A. & Wood, B. J. A Mercury-like component of early Earth yields uranium in the core and high mantle 142Nd. Nature 520, 337–340 (2015).
Korenaga, J. Initiation and evolution of plate tectonics on Earth: Theories and observations. Ann. Revs. Earth Planet. Sci. 41, 117–151 (2013).
Driscoll, P. & Bercovici, D. On the thermal and magnetic histories of Earth and Venus: Influences of melting, radioactivity, and conductivity. Phy. Earth Planet. Int. 236, 36–51 (2014).
Nimmo, F. in Evolution of the Earth (ed. Stevenson, D.) 217–241 (Treatise on Geophysics Vol. 9, Elsevier, 2007).
Höink, T., Jellinek, A. M. & Lenardic, A. Viscous coupling at the lithosphere asthenosphere boundary. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. 12, Q0AK02 (2011).
Höink, T., Lenardic, A. & Jellinek, A. M. Earth's thermal evolution with multiple convection modes: A Monte-Carlo approach. Phys. Earth. Planet. Sci. Lett. 221, 22–26 (2013).
Crowley, J. W. & O'Connell, R. J. An analytic model of convection in a system with layered viscosity and plates. Geophys. J. Int. 188, 61–78 (2012).
Le Bars, M., Cébron, D. & Le Gal, P. Flows driven by libration, precession, and tides. Ann. Rev. Fluid Mech. 47, 163–193 (2015).
Ozima, M. et al. Terrestrial nitrogen and noble gases in lunar soils. Nature 436, 655–659 (2005).
Tarduno, J. A. et al. Geodynamo, solar wind, and magnetopause 3.4 to 3.45 billion years ago. Science 327, 1238–1240 (2010).
Dasgupta, R. Ingassing, storage, and outgassing of terrestrial carbon through geologic time. Rev. Mineral. Geochem. 75, 183–229 (2013).
Pierrehumbert, R. T. Principles of Planetary Climate (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010).
Berner, R. A. The carbon cycle and carbon dioxide over Phanerozoic time: the role of land plants. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 353, 75–82 (1998).
Sleep, N. H. & Zahnle, K. Carbon dioxide cycling and implications for climate on ancient Earth. J. Geophys. Res. Planet. 106, 1373–1399 (2001).
Hoffman, P. F. Pan-glacial—a third state in the climate system. Geology Today 25, 100–107 (2009).
Feulner, G. The faint young Sun problem. Rev. Geophys. 50, RG2006 (2012).
Lee, C. T. A., Shen, B., Slotnick, B. S., Liao, K., Dickens, G. R., Yokoyama, Y. & Tice, M. M. Continental arc–island arc fluctuations, growth of crustal carbonates, and long-term climate change. Geosphere 9, 21–36 (2013).
O'Neill, C., Lenardic, A., Höink, T. & Coltice, N. in Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets (eds Mackwell, S. J., Simon-Miller, A. A., Harder, J. W. & Bullock, M. A.) 473–486 (Univ. Arizona Press, 2014).
O'Neill, C., Jellinek, A. M. & Lenardic, A. Conditions for the onset of plate tectonics on terrestrial planets and moons. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 261, 20–32 (2007).
O'Neill, C., Lenardic, A., Moresi, L., Torsvik, T. H. & Lee, C.-T. A. Episodic Precambrian subduction. Earth Planet Sci. Lett. 262, 552–562 (2007).
Weller, M., Lenardic, A. & O'Neill, C. The effects of internal heating and large scale climate variations on tectonic bi-stability in terrestrial planets. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 420, 85–94 (2015).
Schubert, G., Turcotte, D. L. & Olson, P. Mantle Convection in the Earth and Planets (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001).
Gomi, H. et al. The high conductivity of iron and thermal evolution of the Earth's core. Phys. Earth Planet. Int. 224, 88–103 (2013).
Gannoun, A., Boyet, M., Rizo, H. & El Goresy, A. 146Sm–142Nd systematics measured in enstatite chondrites reveals a heterogeneous distribution of 142Nd in the solar nebula. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 7693–7697 (2011).
Fitoussi, C. & Bourdon, B. Silicon isotope evidence against an enstatite chondrite Earth. Science 335, 1477–1480 (2012).
Ranen, M. C. & Jacobsen, S. B. Barium isotopes in chondritic Meteorites: Implications for planetary reservoir models. Science 314, 809–812 (2006).
Qin, L., Carlson, R. W. & Alexander, C. M. O'D. Correlated nucleosynthetic isotopic variability in Cr, Sr, Ba, Sm, Nd and Hf in Murchison and QUE 97008. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 75, 7806–7828 (2011).
We thank H. O'Neill, J. Wade, R. Carlson, M. Boyet, Al Hofmann, N. Shimizu, W. McDonough, F. Horton, A. Lenardic, P. Hoffman, R. Pierrehumbert, and D. Archer for comments and engaging discussions. We acknowledge constructive reviews from W. White and S. Labrosse. M.G.J. acknowledges grants from NSF that funded this research: EAR-1348082, EAR-1347377, EAR-1145202 and OCE-1153894. A.M.J. acknowledges support from NSERC, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and NSF PHY11-25915.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Jellinek, A., Jackson, M. Connections between the bulk composition, geodynamics and habitability of Earth. Nature Geosci 8, 587–593 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2488
This article is cited by
Space Science Reviews (2022)
Loss and Fractionation of Noble Gas Isotopes and Moderately Volatile Elements from Planetary Embryos and Early Venus, Earth and Mars
Space Science Reviews (2020)
On the Distribution and Variation of Radioactive Heat Producing Elements Within Meteorites, the Earth, and Planets
Space Science Reviews (2020)
The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review (2018)
Nature Geoscience (2017)