Water and carbon in the Earth's mantle

Bernard J. Wood*, Alison Pawley, Daniel R. Frost

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    82 Citations (Scopus)


    The concentrations of H2O and C in mid-ocean ridge basalts indicate that the upper, degassed, part of the mantle contains approximately 200 ppm H2O and 80 ppm C. Estimates for the bulk silicate earth are less precise, but, from geochemical and cosmochemical arguments, values of 550-1900 ppm for H2O and 900-3700 ppm for C are plausible. The implication is that the (undegassed) lower mantle is enriched relative to the upper mantle in these volatile components, but concentrations there are only of the order of 2000 ppm. No known hydrate is stable in the normal asthenosphere. In the absence of hydrates, water must reside in nominally anhydrous phases such as olivine and β-(Mg,Fe)2SiO4. The latter has recently been found to dissolve greater than 1.5wt% H2O and partitioning of H2O between β-(Mg,Fe)2SiO4 and olivine is greater than 10:1. The strong preference of H2O for β-(Mg,Fe)2SiO4 means that mantle water content influences the width of the seismic discontinuity at 410 km, given that the latter corresponds to the olivine to β-(Mg,Fe)2SiO4 transformation. The seismically observed width of the discontinuity (less than 10 km) constrains the water content of upper mantle olivine to be 0-500 ppm. A similar type of constraint can probably be applied to the γ-spinel to perovskite plus magnesiowüstite transformation. Thus, arbitrary amounts of water cannot be assigned to the deeper parts of the mantle without considering the seismological implications. In contrast to hydrates, carbonates in peridotite are extremely refractory; they are likely to survive subduction and are stable over a wide range of mantle P-T conditions. Storage of carbon depends on redox relationships with Fe, however, and recent experimental results indicate that the deeper parts of the upper mantle and transition zone are relatively reduced. Subducted carbonate should therefore be reduced by Fe to diamond and stored in this form. Reoxidation to CO2 or carbonate occurs in the shallower parts of the asthenosphere or in the lithosphere. The reduction of subducted carbonate to C is a hypothesis consistent with the 'eclogitic suite' of diamond inclusions, minerals included within diamond which could reasonably be the remnants of subducted basaltic crust.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1495-1511
    Number of pages17
    JournalPhilosophical Transactions - Royal Society of London, A
    Issue number1711
    Publication statusPublished - 1996


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