Evidence from Antarctic mantle peridotite xenoliths for changes in mineralogy, geochemistry and geothermal gradients beneath a developing rift

S. F. Foley*, A. V. Andronikov, D. E. Jacob, S. Melzer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


Garnet and spinel peridotite xenoliths associated with the Phanerozoic Lambert-Amery Rift in eastern Antarctica contain evidence for several stages in the development of the mantle beneath the rift. Despite the fact that equilibria were only partly attained, a combination of petrography, whole-rock geochemistry, mineral chemistry and thermobarometry can be used to decipher four stages prior to entrainment of the xenoliths in the host magma during the initial stages of the breakup of Antarctica, India and Madagascar. The first chronological stage is represented by harzburgitic protoliths represented by rare occurrences of low-Ca olivines and orthopyroxenes in spinel lherzolites: these yield the lowest temperatures of 830-850 °C, and are also characterized by distinct trace element contents; lower Ti, Cr, V and Zn in olivine and orthopyroxene, and additionally lower Cu, Ni, Ga and Li in orthopyroxene. Some garnets are subcalcic, indicating that the spinel-garnet lherzolites also formed from harzburgitic protoliths. The second stage is the formation of garnet due to a pressure increase probably related to collision at 1.1 Ga. The third stage is marked by the growth of clinopyroxene, demonstrably in cpx-poor spinel lherzolites but probably in all xenolith groups: equilibrium of clinopyroxene with olivine and orthopyroxene was not attained in all samples, so that the non-judicious use of thermobarometers can produce bewildering results. The fourth stage is an enrichment episode that affected all spinel-garnet peridotites and about half of the spinel peridotites. During this stage, reaction rims were produced on the clinopyroxenes that formed during stage 3, the modal content of olivine and Mg/(Mg + Fe) in the rocks was reduced, CaO, Al 2O 3 and trace elements were enriched, and garnets were almost completely transformed to kelyphites. A later stage is documented by interstitial glasses and films around spinels related to infiltration of melt from the host magma. These post-date, and are more enriched in alkalies than, partially melted rims on clinopyroxenes, demonstrating that all the three earlier episodes were pre-entrainment events. Pressures indicated by the spinel + garnet lherzolites are restricted to 20-24 kbar at 1040-1180 °C. Early harzburgitic assemblages are interpreted to represent an earlier, cooler geotherm, whereas the kelyphite assemblages indicate temperatures 180-200 °C hotter than the main xenolith geotherm. This event also caused recrystallization of the clinopyroxene rims and is attributed to heating during rifting, but not due to the host magma itself. The preservation of evidence for three progressively hotter geotherms can be related to the upward movement of isotherms during the development of the sub-rift mantle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3096-3120
Number of pages25
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


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