Carbon isotope fractionation during diamond growth in depleted peridotite: counterintuitive insights from modelling water-maximum CHO fluids as multi-component systems

T. Stachel*, T. Chacko, R. W. Luth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Because of the inability of depleted cratonic peridotites to effectively buffer oxygen fugacities when infiltrated by CHO or carbonatitic fluids, it has been proposed recently (Luth and Stachel, 2014) that diamond formation in peridotites typically does not occur by rock-buffered redox reactions as previously thought but by an oxygen-conserving reaction in which minor coexisting CH4 and CO2 components in a water-rich fluid react to form diamond (CO2 + CH4 = 2C + 2H2O). In such fluid-buffered systems, carbon isotope fractionation during diamond precipitation occurs in the presence of two dominant fluid carbon species. Carbon isotope modelling of diamond precipitation from mixed CH4- and CO2-bearing fluids reveals unexpected fundamental differences relative to diamond crystallization from a single carbon fluid species: (1) irrespective of which carbon fluid species (CH4 or CO2) is dominant in the initial fluid, diamond formation is invariably associated with progressive minor (<1‰) enrichment of diamond in 13C as crystallization proceeds. This is in contrast to diamond precipitation by rock-buffered redox processes from a fluid containing only a single carbon species, which can result in either progressive 13C enrichment (CO2 or carbonate fluids) or C13 depletion (CH4 fluids) in the diamond. (2) Fluid speciation is the key factor controlling diamond δ13C values; as XCO2 (XCO2 = CO2/[CO2 + CH4]) in the initial fluid increases from 0.1 to 0.9 (corresponding to an increase in fO2 of 0.8 log units), the carbon isotope composition of the first-precipitated diamond decreases by 3.7‰. The tight mode in δ13C of −5 ±1‰ for diamonds worldwide places strict constraints on the dominant range of XCO2 in water-rich fluids responsible for diamond formation. Specifically, precipitation of diamonds with δ13C values in the range −4 to −6‰ from mantle-derived fluids with an average δ13C value of −5‰ (derived from evidence not related to diamonds) requires that diamond-forming fluids were relatively reduced and had methane as the dominant carbon species (XCO2 = 0.1–0.5). Application of our model to a recently published set of in-situ carbon isotope analyses for peridotitic diamonds from Marange, Zimbabwe (Smit et al., 2016), which contain CH4 fluid inclusions, allows us to perfectly match the observed co-variations in δ13C, δ15N and N content and at the same time explain the previously counter-intuitive observation of progressive C13 enrichment in diamonds that appear to have grown from a fluid with methane as the dominant carbon species. Similarly, the almost complete absence in the published record of progressive C13 depletion trends within diamonds likely reflects ubiquitous precipitation from CH4- and CO2-bearing water-rich fluids, rather than diamond formation exclusively by carbonate-bearing and CH4-free oxidized fluids or melts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-51
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • diamond formation
  • carbon isotopes
  • Rayleigh fractionation
  • multicomponent systems
  • Marange


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