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Emerging geothermometers for estimating slab surface temperatures


Soon after its creation, the upper part of the oceanic lithosphere becomes hydrated owing to prolonged interaction with sea water. As oceanic slabs sink into the mantle at subduction zones and experience increasing temperatures and pressures, they dehydrate and release fluids. Such slab fluids drive mantle melting and return ocean water to the Earth's surface through arc volcanism. The efficiency of this process, as well as the chemical make-up of slab fluids, depends on the pressure and temperature conditions experienced by the slabs as they subduct. A growing body of experimental data provides the basis for new geothermometers (for example the ratio of water to cerium) that, when combined with data from melt inclusions in volcanic crystals, predict that slab-fluid temperatures vary from 750 to 950 °C for different subduction zones. Such high values indicate that fluids that exit the slab when it is below the arc are likely to be like melts or solute-rich fluids. Slab surface temperatures inferred from these geothermometers are at the upper end of those predicted by thermal models, implying that fluids could be released at relatively shallow depths and efficiently returned to the surface.

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Figure 1: The effect of temperature on LREE and H2O content of slab fluids.
Figure 2: Slab-fluid thermometers.
Figure 3: Volatile concentrations in olivine-hosted melt inclusions.
Figure 4: Comparison of slab-fluid thermometer with thermal model.


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We are grateful to J. Hermann, P. Wallace and J. Roberge for unpublished data, and E. Syracuse for providing the thermal model in Fig. 4. We thank J. Hermann, M. Schmidt, P. Kelemen and E. Stolper for illuminating conversations, and J. Blundy, C. Spandler and D. Arcay for constructive reviews. This work is supported by the US National Science Foundation grants OCE-0526450 (T.P.) and EAR-0337170 (C.E.M.).

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T.P and C.E.M. developed the discussion of experimental data and slab fluid geothermometry models; L.B.C. assessed the arc melt inclusion data; T.P. took the lead in writing the paper, with substantial contributions from C.E.M. and L.B.C.

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Correspondence to Terry Plank.

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Plank, T., Cooper, L. & Manning, C. Emerging geothermometers for estimating slab surface temperatures. Nature Geosci 2, 611–615 (2009).

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