PerspectiveGeochemistry

Identifying remnants of early Earth

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Science  13 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6287, pp. 768-769
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2482

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Summary

The chemical composition of Earth's mantle can tell us how our planet formed and how subsequent mantle dynamics have since homogenized the mantle through convective processes. Most terrestrial rocks have a similar tungsten (W) isotope composition (1), but some rocks that have been dated at 2.8 Ga (billion years old) (2), 3.8 Ga (3), and 3.96 Ga (4) have elevated 182W/184W ratios. This is reported as µ182W, in parts per million (ppm) deviation from the bulk silicate Earth. Until now, the outliers have included only these ancient rock samples with a small µ182W excess (≤15 ppm) that can be attributed to the final ∼0.5% of Earth's mass that accreted late in its accretion history. On page 809 of this issue, Rizo et al. (5) report W isotope data from young mantle-derived rocks with µ182W excesses of 10 to 48 ppm. This result is spectacular because the range of µ182W values in mantle-derived rocks is larger than can be accommodated by late accretion; the implication is that remnants of Earth's earliest mantle have been preserved over the entirety of Earth's history.