Tracing mantle structure and chemical evolution using noble gas isotopes

  • Michael Broadley

Student thesis: Phd


The mantle is the largest reservoir of many of the Earth's volatile species. Detailed isotopic studies of noble gases within the mantle volatiles have demonstrated that they are of a primordial origin, which have been trapped in the mantle since the Earth's accretion. This original volatile signature has continually evolved over time, due to the production of in situ radiogenic isotopes and through the recycling of surface volatiles back into the mantle (Lupton and Craig, 1975; Holland and Ballentine, 2006). The study of noble gases within magmatic samples has enabled the composition and structure of the mantle to be determined and has distinguished the multiple volatile reservoirs (primordial, crustal, marine etc.) that have contributed to the mantle composition sampled. Together with the halogens (Cl, Br and I) they represent key tracers of volatile transport processes in the Earth. Therefore a combined analytical approach including the halogens and noble gases is not only be able to track the influx of surface volatile into the mantle, but also provide a greater understanding to the fundamental controls of transport, storage and partitioning of volatiles within the mantle.A combined noble gas and halogen study was undertaken on three different geological samples sets to determine how surface volatiles interact with the mantle on a variety of different scales. Firstly continental xenoliths from the Western Antarctic Rift were analysed to establish the role of subduction volatiles in the creation of the rifts volcanic products. The xenoliths have 3He/4He ratios of 7.5RA indicating that the rift is dominated by the rising asthenospheric mantle. However the Br/Cl and I/Cl ratio and heavy noble gases within the xenoliths indicate that marine derived volatiles have been incorporated into the mantle beneath the rift and may have provided and fundamental control on the formation of the rift itself.Secondly the role of surface contamination on mantle samples has been evaluated. A transect along a MOR pillow basalt has been analysed for its halogen concentrations in conjunction with the previously determined noble gases. The outer sections are enriched in Cl relative to Br and I due to the assimilation of a high salinity brine during eruption. In contrast the crystalline interior of the pillow has MORB like Br/Cl and I/Cl ratios but elevated 132Xe/36Ar ratios indicative of the incorporation of pelagic sediments. This small scale analytical approach has shown that submarine pillow basalts are prone to contamination from the surrounding marine environment and provides a method for the identification and quantification of marine contamination.Finally the halogens within olivine phenocrysts from three Emperor Seamounts have been analysed to determine the distribution of the halogens within the lower mantle. The I/Cl ratio of the samples evolves from a MORB-like ratio in the oldest seamount to elevated values similar to sedimentary pore fluids and chondrites in the younger seamounts. This indicates that the Hawaiian mantle plume contains isolated pockets of subducted or primordial material which have been isolated from whole mantle mixing and have therefore retained a halogen signature distinct from the average mantle values.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRaymond Burgess (Supervisor)


  • noble gases
  • Volatile recycling

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