Melting mud in the mantle


As direct observation of sediment melt generation at mantle depths is not possible, melting of subducted sediment remains controversial. Geochemical fingerprints provide indirect evidence for subduction delivery of sediment to the mantle; however, sediment abundance in mantle-derived melt is generally low (0%–2%), and difficult to detect. In a recent paper published in GEOLOGY, Spencer et al. (2017) provide evidence for melting of subducted sediment in granite sampled from an exhumed mantle section found in the Oman-UAE ophiolite. Peraluminous granite dikes that intrude peridotite in the Oman–United Arab Emirates ophiolite have U-Pb ages that predate obduction. The dikes have unusually high oxygen isotope (δ18O) whole rock and quartz values and yield the highest δ18O zircon values known (14–28‰ VSMOW). The extremely high oxygen isotope ratios uniquely identify the melt source as high-δ18O pelitic and/or siliciceous mud, as no other source could produce granite with such anomalously high δ18O. Formation of high-δ18O sediment-derived granite within peridotite requires subduction of sediment to the mantle, where it melted and intruded the overlying mantle wedge. The granite suite described here contains the highest oxygen isotope ratios reported for igneous rocks, yet intruded mantle peridotite below the petrologic Moho, the most primitive oxygen isotope reservoir in the silicate Earth. Identifying the presence and quantifying the extent of sediment melting within the mantle has important implications for understanding subduction recycling of supracrustal material and effects on mantle heterogeneity over time.


Dr. Christopher Spencer received a BSc and MSc from Brigham Young University (USA) and a PhD in 2014 from the University of St Andrews (Scotland) where he worked with Professors Peter Cawood and Chris Hawkesworth. Following a two year postdoc position at the British Geological Survey, Chris received a research fellowship at Curtin University (Australia).

His research broadly seeks to understand the formation, destruction, and secular evolution of the continental crust. Specifically, he is a ‘tectonochemist’ with research that is rooted in fieldwork and utilises igneous petrology, geochemistry, and geochronology to understand orogenic processes and secular change.


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