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Kimberlites reveal 2.5-billion-year evolution of a deep, isolated mantle reservoir

Abstract

The widely accepted paradigm of Earth's geochemical evolution states that the successive extraction of melts from the mantle over the past 4.5 billion years formed the continental crust, and produced at least one complementary melt-depleted reservoir that is now recognized as the upper-mantle source of mid-ocean-ridge basalts1. However, geochemical modelling and the occurrence of high 3He/4He (that is, primordial) signatures in some volcanic rocks suggest that volumes of relatively undifferentiated mantle may reside in deeper, isolated regions2. Some basalts from large igneous provinces may provide temporally restricted glimpses of the most primitive parts of the mantle3,4, but key questions regarding the longevity of such sources on planetary timescales—and whether any survive today—remain unresolved. Kimberlites, small-volume volcanic rocks that are the source of most diamonds, offer rare insights into aspects of the composition of the Earth’s deep mantle. The radiogenic isotope ratios of kimberlites of different ages enable us to map the evolution of this domain through time. Here we show that globally distributed kimberlites originate from a single homogeneous reservoir with an isotopic composition that is indicative of a uniform and pristine mantle source, which evolved in isolation over at least 2.5 billion years of Earth history—to our knowledge, the only such reservoir that has been identified to date. Around 200 million years ago, extensive volumes of the same source were perturbed, probably as a result of contamination by exogenic material. The distribution of affected kimberlites suggests that this event may be related to subduction along the margin of the Pangaea supercontinent. These results reveal a long-lived and globally extensive mantle reservoir that underwent subsequent disruption, possibly heralding a marked change to large-scale mantle-mixing regimes. These processes may explain why uncontaminated primordial mantle is so difficult to identify in recent mantle-derived melts.

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Fig. 1: Isotopic evolution in the global kimberlite dataset.
Fig. 2: Kimberlites compared to primitive mantle.
Fig. 3: Isotopic perturbation in the anomalous kimberlites.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during the course of this study are archived at EarthChem (https://doi.org/10.1594/IEDA/111335).

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Acknowledgements

We thank the De Beers Group, S. Graham, B. Kjarsgaard and H. O’Brien for access to samples; M. Felgate and A Greig for technical assistance; D. Sandiford for advice on the use of GPlates; and S. Shirey for suggestions. R. Chesler and M. Felgate produced the Tanzania perovskite and Brazilian kimberlite data, respectively. J.W. and A.G. acknowledge funding from the Australian Research Council.

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Contributions

J.W., R.M. and G.N. were responsible for the acquisition of new isotope data. J.H. and A.G. collated existing data. J.W., J.H. and A.G. conducted the data analysis. D.P. and D.G.P. contributed to geochemical and geological interpretations, sample selection and sample screening. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jon Woodhead.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Peer review information Nature thanks Catherine Chauvel, Alex Sobolev and Richard J. Walker for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 A model for generating the primitive-kimberlite array.

a, b, Model simulating the neodymium- (a) and hafnium- (b) isotope variations generated by the incorporation of subducted slab (normal MORB (N-MORB), plus 0–5% sediment) into a CHUR-like lower-mantle source region from which kimberlite melts are produced. c, The best fit to the observed data is achieved via the continuous addition (black arrows) of a 5% slab component (here, N-MORB) that has been allowed to age by 500 Myr (green arrows) before mixing with the CHUR source (95% in c). Evolution trajectories similar to the green arrows for N-MORB are generated in the model when incorporating a sedimentary component (which, for clarity, is not shown). The addition of 95% of a deep-mantle reservoir with primitive-mantle compositional characteristics would still be required as a starting point for each mixing step.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Reconstructions of the Pangea supercontinent at 200 Ma.

Figure produced using PALEOMAP53 and GPlates 2.0. White circles provide indicative locations for primitive kimberlites, and gold circles indicate anomalous-kimberlite localities. Red lines indicate subduction zones at the western edge of Pangea54.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Subducted slab-DMM mixing arrays in relation to the anomalous-kimberlite data.

Although assimilation of DMM by an ascending enriched ‘kimberlite’ component might be considered the most obvious way of generating the steep data arrays in the anomalous kimberlites, melts of any given age must mix with DMM of the same age. Thus, mixing vectors do not point towards modern DMM; they are vertical in age versus the isotope-ratio diagrams. Consequently, any constant proportion of DMM entrainment will not produce the steep arrays noted in the anomalous-kimberlite data. Instead, a progressive and substantial increase in the DMM component with successive magmatic episodes (vertical displacement) would be required—which would also have to be highly correlated with the age of mixing (horizontal displacement). Similar vectors are obtained by mixing with primitive, rather than depleted, mantle.

Extended Data Table 1 Isotope data used to generate an age for the Silvery Home kimberlite
Extended Data Table 2 Modelling parameters used in this study

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Woodhead, J., Hergt, J., Giuliani, A. et al. Kimberlites reveal 2.5-billion-year evolution of a deep, isolated mantle reservoir. Nature 573, 578–581 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1574-8

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