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A mantle story told with metal and gas
Differences in isotopic compositions of trace elements can help identify how regions of Earth's mantle have evolved over time. Mundl et al. identified several ancient domains that have been isolated from mantle homogenization and thus contain signatures of primordial material. Tungsten and helium isotope values indicate fractionation and isolation of these mantle domains just after Earth's formation. The findings help constrain ancient processes such as core formation, but also provide insight into unexplained structures in the lower mantle today.
Science, this issue p. 66
New tungsten isotope data for modern ocean island basalts (OIB) from Hawaii, Samoa, and Iceland reveal variable 182W/184W, ranging from that of the ambient upper mantle to ratios as much as 18 parts per million lower. The tungsten isotopic data negatively correlate with 3He/4He. These data indicate that each OIB system accesses domains within Earth that formed within the first 60 million years of solar system history. Combined isotopic and chemical characteristics projected for these ancient domains indicate that they contain metal and are repositories of noble gases. We suggest that the most likely source candidates are mega–ultralow-velocity zones, which lie beneath Hawaii, Samoa, and Iceland but not beneath hot spots whose OIB yield normal 182W and homogeneously low 3He/4He.