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Finding melted mud in the mantle

As direct observation of sediment melt generation at mantle depths is not possible, melting of subducted sediment remains controversial. Geochemical fingerprints provide indirect evidence for subduction delivery of sediment to the mantle; however, sediment abundance in mantle-derived melt is generally low (0%–2%), and difficult to detect. In this publication, we provide evidence for melting of subducted sediment in granite sampled from an exhumed mantle section found in the Oman-UAE ophiolite. Peraluminous granite dikes that intrude peridotite in the Oman–United Arab Emirates ophiolite have U-Pb ages that predate obduction. The dikes have unusually high oxygen isotope (δ18O) whole rock and quartz values and yield the highest δ18O zircon values known (14–28‰ VSMOW). The extremely high oxygen isotope ratios uniquely identify the melt source as high-δ18O pelitic and/or siliciceous mud, as no other source could produce granite with such anomalously high δ18O. Formation of high-δ18O sediment-derived granite within peridotite requires subduction of sediment to the mantle, where it melted and intruded the overlying mantle wedge. The granite suite described here contains the highest oxygen isotope ratios reported for igneous rocks, yet intruded mantle peridotite below the petrologic Moho, the most primitive oxygen isotope reservoir in the silicate Earth. Identifying the presence and quantifying the extent of sediment melting within the mantle has important implications for understanding subduction recycling of supracrustal material and effects on mantle heterogeneity over time.

UAE-Oman Ophiolite
Sub-Moho S-type granite intruding peridotite in the UAE-Oman ophiolite.

Relevant publication:

Spencer, C.J., Cavosie, A.J., Raub, T.D., Rollinson, H., Jeon, H., Searle, M.P., Miller, J.A., McDonald, B.J., and Evans, N.J., 2017, Evidence for melting mud in Earth’s mantle from extreme oxygen isotope signatures in zircon: Geology, v. 45, no. 11, pages 975-978 (2017). doi: 10.1130/G39402.1.