K/U of the MORB Source and Silicate Earth

B. Farcy, R. Arevalo, W. F. McDonough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Potassium (K) informs on the radiogenic heat production, atmospheric composition, and volatile element depletion of the Earth and other planetary systems. Constraints on the abundance of K in the Earth, Moon, and other rocky bodies have historically hinged on K/U values measured in planetary materials, particularly comparisons of the continental crust and mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORBs), for developing compositional models of the bulk silicate Earth (BSE). However, a consensus on the most representative K/U value for global MORB remains elusive despite numerous studies. Here, we statistically analyze a critical compilation of MORB data to determine the K/U value of the MORB source. Covariations in the log-normal abundances of K and U establish that K is 3–7 times less incompatible than U during melting and/or crystallization processes, enabling inverse modeling to infer the K/U of the MORB source region. These comprehensive data have a mean K/U for global MORB = 13,900 ± 200 (2σm; n = 4,646), and define a MORB source region with a K/U between 14,000 and 15,500, depending on the modeled melting regime. However, this range represents strictly a lower limit due to the undefined role of fractional crystallization in these samples and challenges preserving the signatures of depleted components in the MORB mantle source. This MORB source model, when combined with recent metadata analyses of ocean island basalt (OIB) and continental crust, suggests that the BSE has a K/U value >12,100 and contains >260 × 10−6 kg/kg K, resulting in a global production of ∼3.5 TW of radiogenic heat today and 1.5 × 1017 kg of 40Ar over the lifetime of the planet.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JB020245
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Dec


  • mantle
  • MORB
  • radiogenic


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