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Preservation of Earth-forming events in the tungsten isotopic composition of modern flood basalts

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Science  13 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6287, pp. 809-812
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8563

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Isotopes isolated after impact

Details about how Earth formed are gleaned from the daughter products of certain short-lived radioactive isotopes found in rocks. Rizo et al. describe subtle tungsten isotope variations in rocks from the very deep mantle in Baffin Island and the Ontong Java Plateau (see the Perspective by Dahl). The results suggest that portions of Earth have remained unmixed since it formed. The unmixed deep mantle rocks also imply that Earth's core formed from several large impact events.

Science, this issue p. 809; see also p. 768

Abstract

How much of Earth's compositional variation dates to processes that occurred during planet formation remains an unanswered question. High-precision tungsten isotopic data from rocks from two large igneous provinces, the North Atlantic Igneous Province and the Ontong Java Plateau, reveal preservation to the Phanerozoic of tungsten isotopic heterogeneities in the mantle. These heterogeneities, caused by the decay of hafnium-182 in mantle domains with high hafnium/tungsten ratios, were created during the first ~50 million years of solar system history, indicating that portions of the mantle that formed during Earth’s primary accretionary period have survived to the present.

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