Water and the Oxidation State of Subduction Zone Magmas

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Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 605-607
DOI: 10.1126/science.1174156

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Tracing Mantle Oxidation

The chemical composition of the Earth's mantle varies with tectonic setting. For example, basaltic melts near subduction zones are more oxidized than magma near divergent plate boundaries. Kelley and Cottrell (p. 605; see the Perspective by Hirschmann) examined melts formed in different tectonic environments, using highly sensitive synchrotron-based analytical methods. The oxidation state of Fe increased with water content and mobile trace elements concentrations. Thus, fluids released from wet subducting plates drive mantle oxidation above subduction zones, which may help to explain the spatial differences in oxygen fugacity of the mantle.


Mantle oxygen fugacity exerts a primary control on mass exchange between Earth’s surface and interior at subduction zones, but the major factors controlling mantle oxygen fugacity (such as volatiles and phase assemblages) and how tectonic cycles drive its secular evolution are still debated. We present integrated measurements of redox-sensitive ratios of oxidized iron to total iron (Fe3+/ΣFe), determined with Fe K-edge micro–x-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy, and pre-eruptive magmatic H2O contents of a global sampling of primitive undegassed basaltic glasses and melt inclusions covering a range of plate tectonic settings. Magmatic Fe3+/ΣFe ratios increase toward subduction zones (at ridges, 0.13 to 0.17; at back arcs, 0.15 to 0.19; and at arcs, 0.18 to 0.32) and correlate linearly with H2O content and element tracers of slab-derived fluids. These observations indicate a direct link between mass transfer from the subducted plate and oxidation of the mantle wedge.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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