Tracking the lithium isotopic evolution of the mantle using carbonatites

Ralf Halama, William F. McDonough, Roberta L. Rudnick, Keith Bell

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95 Citations (Scopus)


Carbonatites are mantle-derived, intraplate magmas that provide a means of documenting isotopic variations of the Earth's mantle through time. To investigate the secular Li isotopic evolution of the mantle and to test whether Li isotopes document systematic recycling of material processed at or near the Earth's surface into the mantle, we analyzed the Li isotopic compositions of carbonatites and spatially associated mafic silicate rocks. The Li isotopic compositions of Archean (2.7 Ga) to Recent carbonatites (δ7Li = 4.1 ± 1.3 (n = 23, 1σ)) overlap the range typical for modern mantle-derived rocks, and do not change with time, despite ongoing crustal recycling. Thus, the average Li isotopic composition of recycled crustal components has not deviated greatly from the mantle value (~ + 4) and/or Li diffusion is sufficiently fast to attenuate significant heterogeneities over timescales of 108 years. Modeling of Li diffusion at mantle temperatures suggests that limited δ7Li variation in the mantle through time reflects the more effective homogenization of Li in the mantle compared to radiogenic isotope systems. The real (but limited) variations in δ7Li that exist in modern mantle-derived magmas as well as carbonatites studied here may reflect isotopic fractionation associated with shallow-level processes, such as crustal assimilation and diffusive isotopic fractionation in magmatic systems, with some of the scatter possibly related to low-temperature alteration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)726-742
Number of pages17
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Jan 30


  • carbonatites
  • lithium isotopes
  • mantle geochemistry


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