Diffusion-driven extreme lithium isotopic fractionation in country rocks of the Tin Mountain pegmatite

Fang Zhen Teng, William F. McDonough, Roberta L. Rudnick, Richard J. Walker

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200 Citations (Scopus)


Lithium concentrations and isotopic compositions in the country rocks (amphibolites and schists) of the Tin Mountain pegmatite show systematic changes with distance to the contact. Both Li and δ7Li decrease dramatically along a ∼10 m traverse from the pegmatite into amphibolite, with Li concentration decreasing from 471 to 68 ppm and δ7Li decreasing from +7.6 to -19.9. Rubidium and Cs also decrease from the pegmatite contact into the country rock, but only within the first 2 m of the contact, after which their concentrations remain constant. Neither mixing between pegmatite fluids and amphibolite, nor Li isotope fractionation by Rayleigh distillation during fluid infiltration is a likely explanation of these observations, due to the extremely light isotopic composition required for the amphibolite end-member in the mixing model (δ7Li = -20) and the similarly extreme isotopic fractionation required in a Rayleigh distillation model. Rather, these variations are likely due to isotopic fractionation accompanying Li diffusion from the Li-rich pegmatite (Li = 450 to 730 ppm) into amphibolites (Li = 20 ppm). The fact that other alkali element concentrations vary only within 2 m of the contact reflects the orders of magnitude faster diffusion of Li relative to heavier elements. Quartz mica schists in contact with the pegmatite also show large variations in both Li and δ7Li as a function of distance from contact (∼1 wt.% to ∼70 ppm and + 10.8 to -18.6, respectively), but over a longer distance of > 30 m. Lithium concentrations of the schist decrease from ∼1 wt.% adjacent to the contact to ∼70 ppm 300 m from the contact; the latter is a typical concentration in metapelites. The nature of the δ7Li variations in the schists is different than in the amphibolites. Schists within the first 2 m of the contact have nearly identical δ7Li of +10, which mimics that of the estimated bulk pegmatite (+8 to +11). At a distance of 30 m the δ7Li reaches the lowest value in the schists of -18.6 (similar to the lowest amphibolite measured). At a distance of 300 m the δ7Li climbs back to +2.5, which is within the range of δ7Li of other schists in the region and metapelites worldwide. The behavior of Li in the schists can also be modeled by Li diffusion, with the effective diffusion coefficient in the schist being ∼10 times greater than that in the amphibolite. The effective diffusion coefficients of Li in the amphibolite and schist are >2 orders of magnitude greater that those in minerals, which implicates the importance of fluid-assisted grain-boundary diffusion over solid-state diffusion in transporting Li through these rocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)701-710
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2006 Mar 30
Externally publishedYes


  • Fluid infiltration
  • Isotope fractionation
  • Lithium diffusion
  • Tin Mountain pegmatite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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