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A wet heterogeneous mantle creates a habitable world in the Hadean

Abstract

The Hadean eon, following the global-scale melting of the mantle1,2,3, is expected to be a dynamic period, during which Earth experienced vastly different conditions. Geologic records, however, suggest that the surface environment of Earth was already similar to the present by the middle of the Hadean4,5. Under what conditions a harsh surface environment could turn into a habitable one remains uncertain6. Here we show that a hydrated mantle with small-scale chemical heterogeneity, created as a result of magma ocean solidification, is the key to ocean formation, the onset of plate tectonics and the rapid removal of greenhouse gases, which are all essential to create a habitable environment on terrestrial planets. When the mantle is wet and dominated by high-magnesium pyroxenites, the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is expected to be more than ten times faster than the case of a pyrolitic homogeneous mantle and could be completed within  160 million years. Such a chemically heterogeneous mantle would also produce oceanic crust rich in olivine, which is reactive with ocean water and promotes serpentinization. Therefore, conditions similar to the Lost City hydrothermal field7,8,9 may have existed globally in the Hadean seafloor.

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Fig. 1: Schematic illustration of how a magma ocean solidifies with the evolution of atmosphere.
Fig. 2: Mantle degassing considering the effect of the rheological transition.
Fig. 3: Crustal thickness and plate velocity of chemically heterogeneous and pyrolitic (homogeneous) mantles.
Fig. 4: Evolutions of atmospheric composition and surface temperature after the onset of plate tectonics.

Data availability

All relevant data are provided in the paper. Codes to reproduce the results are available at https://github.com/yoshi-miyazaki/Hadean-evolution/. The Gibbs energy minimization code is available at https://github.com/yoshi-miyazaki/GibbsE-minimization/Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

This work was sponsored by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration under Cooperative Agreement No. 80NSSC19M0069 issued through the Science Mission Directorate and the National Science Foundation under grant EAR-1753916. This work was also supported in part by the facilities and staff of the Yale University Faculty of Arts and Sciences High Performance Computing Center. Y.M. was supported by the Stanback Postdoctoral Fellowship from Caltech Center for Comparative Planetary Evolution. The authors thank N. Sleep and M. Hirschmann for providing constructive comments, which were helpful to substantially improve the accuracy of the manuscript.

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Y.M. and J.K. designed the study, discussed the results, and wrote the manuscript. Y.M. performed calculations.

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Correspondence to Yoshinori Miyazaki.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 The thermal structure of the chemically heterogeneous mantle plotted together with contours of melt fraction.

ac, Melt fraction is shown for two components of the mantle: high-Mg# pyroxenite matrix (a) and Fe-rich blobs (c), and water content remaining in the solid phase of the high-Mg# matrix (b). The melt fractions of high-Mg# matrix and Fe-rich blobs are estimated using the Rhyolite-MELTS model42. The dry (grey solid) and wet (0.1 wt%; grey dashed) adiabats are calculated with a potential temperature of 1,600 °C, using equation (17). For the wet adiabat of the high-Mg# matrix, two modes of melting are considered, batch (dotted) and fractional (dashed), and for the latter, we assume that 90% of melt would escape from the mantle for every 0.1 GPa of ascent when the degree of melting is greater than 1%. The fraction of melt escaping the system is insensitive to the thickness of complete dehydration, and values between 10% and 99.9% would yield a thickness within 0.1 GPa of what is predicted in this figure. d, Schematic illustration of the compositional structure of the mantle during and after the solidification of a magma ocean under fractional crystallization. The mantle experiences global-scale chemical stratification, leaving an Fe-rich layer near the surface. Such stratification is subject to the Rayleigh–Taylor (RT) instability, resulting in the dripping-like descent of Fe-rich materials. This period corresponds to Fig. 1a. These droplets would solidify as they sink through the mantle (left) and be mixed with high-Mg# cumulates. When the surface becomes rheologically solid (Fig. 1b), the mantle would have a structure with small-scale chemical heterogeneity, embedded in high-Mg# matrix (right).

Extended Data Fig. 2 Thermal structure of a pyrolitic (chemically homogeneous) mantle when a melt-dominated layer disappears.

The figure describes when the entire mantle starts to behave rheologically as solid, which corresponds to a potential temperature of ~1,600 °C. ac, The profiles of temperature (a), melt fraction (b) and water content (c) are shown for both dry (grey solid) and wet (0.1 wt%; grey dotted and dashed) mantles, together with the solidus (blue) and liquidus of pyrolite (red). The solidus of a wet mantle (blue dashed) is estimated using equation (18) and a melt/mineral partitioning coefficient of D = 0.005. Two modes of melting are considered for the wet mantle, batch (dotted) and fractional (dashed). Temperature profiles would be adiabatic as a result of the Rayleigh–Taylor instability, and melt fraction is estimated using a model of ref. 24 with the mass fraction of clinopyroxene of 19 wt%. For fractional melting, we assume that 90% of melt would escape from the mantle for every 0.1 GPa of ascent when the degree of melting is greater than 1%.

Extended Data Fig. 3 The subduction geotherm during the Hadean with the stability field of carbonates.

PT paths are calculated assuming a dip angle of 45° using the model of ref. 79 (see Methods for details). We consider (1) a mantle potential temperature of 1,350 °C with a plate age of 10 Myr, a velocity of 5 cm yr−1, and a surface temperature of 0 °C (blue), (2) a potential temperature of 1,600 °C with a plate age of 10 Myr, a velocity of 50 cm yr−1, and a surface temperature of 230 °C (red solid), and (3) a potential temperature of 1,600 °C with a plate age of 100 Myr, a velocity of 5 cm yr−1, and a surface temperature of 230 °C (red dashed), representing the present-day young slab, the Hadean slab of the chemically heterogeneous mantle, and that of a homogeneous pyrolitic mantle, respectively. PT paths of the heterogeneous and homogenous mantles are similar because rapid plate motion mitigates the heating of the slab from the surrounding mantle. The solidus of carbonate melt is adopted from ref. 75 (black dotted), and the decomposition of magnesite under the presence of quartz is calculated using Theriak-Domino60 (grey dotted).

Extended Data Fig. 4 The profiles of Al2O3 (red) and CaO (blue) contents after magma ocean solidification.

Profiles before the onset of small-scale Rayleigh–Taylor instabilities are shown. The top 500 km of the mantle becomes the source for iron-rich blobs, whereas the lower mantle composition corresponds to the high-Mg# matrix in the main text. We assume that newly formed crystals in the magma ocean would stack at the base of the melt-dominated layer (Fig. 1a). Initial concentrations of Al2O3 3.5 wt% and CaO 2.8 wt%80 are assumed (dashed lines), and partitioning coefficients between melt and bridgmanite are calculated from the experimental results of Trønnes and Frost55 and Corgne et al56. Shaded areas represent uncertainties, which are calculated using partitioning coefficients 30% larger and smaller values than the mean estimated values (DAl/Si = 0.78 and DCa/Si = 0.16).

Extended Data Fig. 5 Effective viscosity contrast across the lithosphere and the criteria for plate tectonics.

Effective viscosity contrast is shown (equation (14)) as a function of the internal Rayleigh number, together with the corresponding mantle potential temperature. The thickness of depleted lithospheric mantle hm in equation (14) is different between chemically homogeneous (grey) and heterogeneous mantles (red), and the values of hm are shown in Fig. 3b. The criteria for plate tectonics (ΔηL,crit in equation (20)) is also plotted with a dotted line.

Extended Data Table 1 The evolution of CO2 and H2O budgets
Extended Data Table 2 Compositions of high-Mg# pyroxenite, iron-rich blobs and their differentiated components

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Miyazaki, Y., Korenaga, J. A wet heterogeneous mantle creates a habitable world in the Hadean. Nature 603, 86–90 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04371-9

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