Apatite/liquid partition coefficients for the rare earth elements and strontium

E. Bruce Watson*, Trevor H. Green

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

424 Citations (Scopus)


Sixteen sets of apatite/liquid partition coefficients (Dap/liq) for the rare earth elements (REE; La, Sm, Dy, Lu) and six values for Sr were experimentally determined in natural systems ranging from basanite to granite. The apatite + melt (glass) assemblages were obtained from starting glasses artificially enriched in REE, Sr and fluorapatite components; these were run under dry and hydrous conditions of 7.5-20 kbar and 950-1120°C in a solid-media, piston-cylinder apparatus. An SEM-equipped electron microprobe was used for subsequent measurement of REE and Sr concentrations in coexisting apatites and quenched glasses. The resulting partition coefficient patterns resemble previously determined apatite phenocryst/groundmass concentration ratios in the following respects: (1) the rare earth patterns are uniformly concave downward (i.e., the middle REE are more compatible in apatite than the light and heavy REE); (2) DREE ap/liq is much higher for silicic melts than for basic ones; and (3) strontium (and therefore Eu2+) is less concentrated by apatite than are the trivalent REE. The effects of both temperature and melt composition on DREE ap/liq are systematic and pronounced. At 950°C, for example, a change in melt SiO2 content from 50 to 68 wt.% causes the average REE partition coefficient to increase from ∼7 to ∼30. A 130°C increase in temperature, on the other hand, results in a two-fold decrease in DREE ap/liq. Partitioning of Sr is insenstitive to changes in melt composition and temperature, and neither the Sr nor the REE partition coefficients appear to be affected by variations in pressure or H2O content of the melt. The experimentally determined partition coefficients can be used not only in trace element modelling, but also to distinguish apatite phenocrysts from xenocrysts in rocks. Reported apatite megacryst/host basalt REE concentration ratios [12], for example, are considerably higher than the equilibrium partition coefficients, which suggest that in this particular case the apatite is actually xenocrystic. A reversal experiment incorporated in our study yielded diffusion profiles of REE in apatite, from which we extracted a REEαCa interdiffusion coefficient of 2-4×10-14 cm2/s at 1120°C. Extrapolated downward to crustal temperatures, this low value suggests that complete REE equilibrium between felsic partial melts and residual apatite is rarely established.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-421
Number of pages17
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue numberC
Publication statusPublished - 1981


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