Unradiogenic lead in Earth's upper mantle

Kevin W. Burton*, Bénédicte Cenki-Tok, Fatima Mokadem, Jason Harvey, Abdelmouhcine Gannoun, Olivier Alard, Ian J. Parkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The mantle and continental crust-Earth's main silicate reservoirs-have a lead isotope composition that is too radiogenic to have evolved from primitive Solar System material over 4.57 billion years 1. To account for this imbalance, it has been suggested that unradiogenic lead may have partitioned into the metallic core 2-4 or lower continental crust 5. Alternatively, radiogenic lead could have been added to Earth later by meteorite impacts 6. Unradiogenic lead was discovered in fragments of mantle rocks exhumed in the Horoman massif, Japan, implying that the mantle itself may provide a complementary reservoir of unradiogenic lead 7. However, it is unclear why this unradiogenic component is not sampled by the melting that generates oceanic basalts 8. Here we present double-spike lead isotope data for abyssal peridotite rocks, considered to represent suboceanic mantle, exposed on the Atlantic Ocean floor. We find that sulphides dated at about 1.83 billion years old and trapped as inclusions in silicate minerals preserve extremely unradiogenic lead isotope compositions. This unradiogenic lead could have been prevented from adding significantly to oceanic basalts if either the silicates shield the sulphide inclusions or if the sulphides reside in refractory mantle rocks that are rarely sampled during melting. We conclude that the lead isotope composition of the silicate Earth could be largely balanced by unradiogenic lead in sulphide in the mantle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-573
Number of pages4
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


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