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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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.