Selenium isotopes as tracers of a late volatile contribution to Earth from the outer Solar System


The origin of Earth’s volatiles has been attributed to a late addition of meteoritic material after core–mantle differentiation. The nature and consequences of this ‘late veneer’ are debated, but may be traced by isotopes of the highly siderophile, or iron-loving, and volatile element selenium. Here we present high-precision selenium isotope data for mantle peridotites, from double spike and hydride-generation multicollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. These data indicate that the selenium isotopic composition of peridotites is unaffected by petrological processes, such as melt depletion and melt-rock reaction, and thus a narrow range is preserved that is representative of the silicate Earth. We show that selenium isotopes record a signature of late accretion after core formation and that this signature overlaps only with that of the CI-type carbonaceous chondrites. We conclude that these isotopic constraints indicate the late veneer originated from the outer Solar System and was of lower mass than previously estimated. Thus, we suggest a late and highly concentrated delivery of volatiles enabled Earth to become habitable.

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Fig. 1: Se and Al2O3 contents and Se isotope data of mantle peridotites.
Fig. 2: Se isotope data for terrestrial and meteorite samples.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are provided as Supplementary Tables 17.


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This work was supported by the ERC Starting Grant 636808 (O2RIGIN) granted to S.K. We thank T. Kurzawa and E. Reitter for laboratory assistance.

Author information




S.K. designed the project, J.-P.L. provided the samples and their relevant petrogenetic features, M.I.V.-R. prepared the samples and performed the Se isotope analysis and, together with S.K. and A.Y., interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript with contributions from all the authors.

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Correspondence to María Isabel Varas-Reus.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Table Captions 1–7, Supplementary Figs. 1–3 and Supplementary References.

Supplementary Tables

Supplementary Tables 1–7.

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Varas-Reus, M.I., König, S., Yierpan, A. et al. Selenium isotopes as tracers of a late volatile contribution to Earth from the outer Solar System. Nat. Geosci. 12, 779–782 (2019).

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