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Ancient Earth crust stored in deep mantle

Date:
April 24, 2013
Source:
Carnegie Institution
Summary:
Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research now demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago.

New research demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago.
Credit: KristijanZontar / Fotolia

Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.

Oceanic crust sinks into Earth's mantle at so-called subduction zones, where two plates come together. Much of what happens to the crust during this journey is unknown. Model-dependent studies for how long subducted material can exist in the mantle are uncertain and evidence of very old crust returning to Earth's surface via upwellings of magma has not been found until now.

The research team studied volcanic rocks from the island of Mangaia in Polynesia's Cook Islands that contain iron sulfide inclusions within crystals. In-depth analysis of the chemical makeup of these samples yielded interesting results.

The research focused on isotopes of the element sulfur. (Isotopes are atoms of the same element with different numbers of neutrons.) The measurements, conducted by graduate student Rita Cabral, looked at three of the four naturally occurring isotopes of sulfur--isotopic masses 32, 33, and 34. The sulfur-33 isotopes showed evidence of a chemical interaction with UV radiation that stopped occurring in Earth's atmosphere about 2.45 billion years ago. It stopped after the Great Oxidation Event, a point in time when Earth's atmospheric oxygen levels skyrocketed as a consequence of oxygen-producing photosynthetic microbes. Prior to the Great Oxidation Event, the atmosphere lacked ozone. But once ozone was introduced, it started to absorb UV and shut down the process.

This indicates that the sulfur comes from a deep mantle reservoir containing crustal material subducted before the Great Oxidation Event and preserved for over half the age of Earth.

"These measurements place the first firm age estimates of recycled material in oceanic hotspots," Hauri said. "They confirm the cycling of sulfur from the atmosphere and oceans into mantle and ultimately back to the surface," Hauri said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Carnegie Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rita A. Cabral, Matthew G. Jackson, Estelle F. Rose-Koga, Kenneth T. Koga, Martin J. Whitehouse, Michael A. Antonelli, James Farquhar, James M. D. Day, Erik H. Hauri. Anomalous sulphur isotopes in plume lavas reveal deep mantle storage of Archaean crust. Nature, 2013; 496 (7446): 490 DOI: 10.1038/nature12020

Cite This Page:

Carnegie Institution. "Ancient Earth crust stored in deep mantle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm>.
Carnegie Institution. (2013, April 24). Ancient Earth crust stored in deep mantle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm
Carnegie Institution. "Ancient Earth crust stored in deep mantle." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

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Unique Sulfur Isotopes in Plume Lavas Reveal Deep Mantle Storage of Archean Crust

Apr. 24, 2013 Scientists have found evidence that material contained in young oceanic lava flows originated at the Earth’s surface in the Archean (>2.45 billions years ago). The new finding helps constrain ... read more
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