Research ArticleGEOCHEMISTRY

The prevalence of kilometer-scale heterogeneity in the source region of MORB upper mantle

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Science Advances  22 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, e1701872
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701872


The source regions of mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORB) are heterogeneous, consisting of chemically and lithologically distinct domains of variable size. Partial melting of such heterogeneous mantle sources gives rise to diverse isotopic compositions of MORB and abyssal peridotites. Variations in radiogenic isotope ratios in MORB are attributed to mixing of melts derived from enriched and depleted mantle components. However, melt mixing alone cannot fully account for the difference between the average 143Nd/144Nd in abyssal peridotites and their spatially associated MORB. We show that the more depleted Nd isotope composition in abyssal peridotites is a natural consequence of melt migration–induced mixing or smearing in the melting column. Sub-kilometer scale enriched mantle components or heterogeneities are significantly damped or homogenized in both the residue and erupted melt during their transit through the melting region. Heterogeneities with larger size and higher incompatible trace element abundance are more resistive to the mixing processes. The size-sensitive mixing depends on a parameter called the enrichment strength, which is the product of the heterogeneity size and the ratio between incompatible trace element abundance in the enriched and depleted mantle sources. Observed Nd-Hf isotope variations in MORB and abyssal peridotites can be reproduced if the enrichment strength is 20 to 60 km. These heterogeneities could be on the kilometer scale and have similar isotope ratios to but less incompatible trace element abundances than recycled oceanic crust.

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