Fe-XANES analyses of Reykjanes Ridge basalts: Implications for oceanic crust’s role in the solid Earth oxygen cycle

Ferric iron proportions and oxygen fugacity of Reykjanes Ridge basalts.

The ferric iron content (presented as  \rm{Fe^{3+}/\sum{Fe}}) and oxygen fugacity (\rm{\Delta{QFM}_{(10)} (2 kbar)}) in Reykjanes Ridge basalts approaching the Iceland plume. These samples form a 700km transect of mantle chemical structure as the chemical and thermal anomaly of the Iceland mantle plume is approached. Towards Iceland basalts become more oxidised and increasingly enriched in incompatible trace elements. These signals are consistent with ancient recycled oceanic crust present in the Icelandic mantle.

There is abundant evidence for extreme chemical heterogeneity in the Earth’s mantle, resulting from billions of years of differentiation during magma production, and the subsequent recycling of these crustal rocks back into the mantle. One way we can access a record of these processes is by studying the chemistry of recent volcanic eruptions in locations such as Iceland: where the mantle melts, its chemical character is mapped into the magmas produced, which can erupt as basalts to form an accessible archive of mantle composition.

One way we might expect the Earth’s history of subduction recycling to manifest in the composition of basalts is in their oxygen fugacity, as constrained by the proportion of \rm{Fe^{3+}/\sum{Fe}}, oxidised to reduced iron, in the basalt. Material that spends time at Earth’s surface has the potential to become oxidised by interaction with the atmosphere and hydrosphere. By compiling a large database of ocean floor basalt \rm{Fe^{3+}/\sum{Fe}} compositions and the results of scientific drilling studies, Lecuyer and Ricard (1999) showed that igneous ocean crust often becomes significantly oxidised by hydrothermal alteration, shifting an initial composition of \rm{Fe^{3+}/\sum{Fe}\sim{}0.1} to a mean crustal value of \rm{Fe^{3+}/\sum{Fe}=0.22\pm{0.08}}. A recent study by Cottrell and Kelley (2013) found that enriched mantle material, possibly produced by recycling, actually appears reduced compared with ambient mantle. However, the Cottrell and Kelley (2013) sample set specifically avoided mantle plume influenced sections of ridge, such as the Reykjanes Ridge near Iceland. This study therefore aimed to probe the oxidation state of a mantle plume, which we also have good independent evidence for containing recycled oceanic crust.

Performing Fe-XANES analyses on 64 Reykjanes Ridge basalts on beamline I18 at Diamond Light Source we found that as basalts become more enriched closer to Iceland, they also become more oxidised (Figure above). Neither degassing, nor simple fractional melting processes can account for this trend, which we instead attribute to the presence of recycled oxidised material in the Iceland plume. By performing simple fractional melting calculations, assuming reasonable ferric iron partition coefficients (Mallmann and O’Neill, 2009), we find that the oxidised signature of enriched Icelandic basalts is consistent with altered recycled oceanic crust present in the plume source in similar proportions as found by Shorttle et al. (2014).

Although more work needs to be done on the petrological modelling of ferric iron during crustal and mantle processing, our results are an indication of the role the solid Earth may have the global oxygen cycle. During the last 500 million years of Earth history oxygenation of the oceans may have enabled a flux of oxygen back into the mantle through oxidation of igneous crust at the ridge axis. In this way oxygen levels at Earth’s surface are coupled to the redox evolution of the mantle, as oxidised material is returned into it at subduction zones for long term storage. Occasionally, in locations such as Iceland, we may sample the return flux of this oxidised material to the shallow mantle, where it is involved in melting.

Online [publisher, open access]: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2015.07.017

Reference: Oliver Shorttle, Yves Moussallam, Margaret Hartley, John Maclennan, Marie Edmonds, Bramley Murton. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 427 (2015): 272-285.

Data: The published version of the ferric iron data file is space separated rather than comma separated.  Download a comma separated version here.

Publicity: From fiery giants