University of Oulu

Stephen J Barnes, Morgan Williams, R Hugh Smithies, Eero Hanski, Jack R Lowrey, Trace Element Contents of Mantle-Derived Magmas Through Time, Journal of Petrology, Volume 62, Issue 6, June 2021, egab024,

Trace element contents of mantle-derived magmas through time

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Author: Barnes, Stephen J.1; Williams, Morgan1; Smithies, R. Hugh2;
Organizations: 1CSIRO Mineral Resources, Perth, WA, Australia
2Geological Survey and Resource Strategy Division of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia
3University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
4School of Geosciences, Madsen Building, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.6 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Oxford University Press, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-03-18


A large compilation of quality-curated major and trace element data has been assembled to investigate how trace element patterns of mafic and ultramafic magmas have varied with time through particular settings from the Archean to the Phanerozoic, the primary objective being to recognise at what times particular patterns of variation emerge, and how similar these are to baseline data sets representing tectonic settings in the modern Earth. The most informative element combinations involve Nb, Th and the REE, where REE are represented by ‘lambda’ parameters describing slope and shape of patterns. Combinations of the ratios of Th, Nb, La and lambda values from Archean and early Proterozoic basalts and komatiites reveal a distinctive pattern that is common in most well-sampled terranes, defining a roughly linear trend in multi-dimensional space from compositions intermediate between modern n-MORB and primitive mantle at one end, towards compositions approximating middle-to-upper continental crust at the other. We ascribe this ‘Variable Th/Nb’ trend in most instances to varying degrees of crustal contamination of magmas with similar compositions to modern oceanic plateau basalts. Komatiites had slightly more depleted sources than basalts, consistent with the hypothesis of derivation from plume tails and heads, respectively. The most significant difference between Precambrian and Phanerozoic plume-derived basalts is that the distinctive OIB-like enriched source component appears to be largely missing from the Archean and Proterozoic geologic record, although isolated examples of OIB-like trace element characteristics are evident in datasets from even the oldest preserved greenstones. Phanerozoic intra-cratonic LIPs, such as the 260 Ma Emeishan LIP in China, have fundamentally different geochemical characteristics to Archean and Paleoproterozoic assemblages; the oldest Proterozoic LIP we have identified that has this type of ‘modern’ signal is the Midcontinent Rift at 1100 Ma. The data are consistent with plume tail sources having changed from being dominantly depleted in the Archean Earth to dominantly enriched in the Phanerozoic Earth, while plume head sources have hardly changed at all. Trace element patterns considered to be diagnostic of subduction are locally present but rare in Archean terranes and become more prevalent through the Proterozoic, although this conclusion is tempered by the large degree of overlap in compositional space between continental arc magmas and continental flood basalts. This overlap reflects the difficulty of distinguishing the effects of supra-subduction metasomatizm and flux melting from those of crustal contamination. Additional factors must also be borne in mind, particularly that trace element partitioning systematics may have been different in all environments in a hotter planet, and large-scale asthenospheric overturns might have been predominant over modern-style plumes in the Archean Earth. Some basaltic suites in particular Archean terranes, notably the western parts of both the Yilgarn and Pilbara cratons in Western Australia and parts of the Superior Craton, have restricted, but locally predominant, suites of basalts with characteristics akin to modern oceanic arcs, suggesting that some process similar to modern subduction was preserved in these particular belts. Ferropicrite magmas with distinctive characteristics typical of modern OIBs and some continental LIPs (notably Emeishan) are rare but locally predominant in some Archean and early Proterozoic terranes, implying that plume sources were beginning to be fertilised by enriched, probably subducted, components as far back as the Mesoarchean. We see no evidence for discontinuous secular changes in mantle-derived magmatism with time that could be ascribed to major mantle reorganisation events. The Archean–Proterozoic transition appears to be entirely gradational from this standpoint. The transition from Archean-style to Phanerozoic-style plume magmatism took place somewhere between 1900 Ma (age of the Circum-Superior komatiitic basalt suites) and 1100 Ma (the age of the Midcontinent Rift LIP).

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Series: Journal of petrology
ISSN: 0022-3530
ISSN-E: 1460-2415
ISSN-L: 0022-3530
Volume: 62
Issue: 6
Article number: egab024
DOI: 10.1093/petrology/egab024
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1171 Geosciences
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. . For permissions, please e-mail: This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (