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

Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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.

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

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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0414-7

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