Tungsten geochemistry and implications for understanding the Earth's interior

Ricardo Arevalo, William F. McDonough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


The concentration of tungsten (W) in basaltic melts provides a window into the behavior of this element during core-mantle separation, crust formation, silicate differentiation, and potentially core-mantle interaction. We have analyzed an extensive suite of modern basalts (n = 86) for their trace element chemistry via laser ablation ICP-MS, with barium (Ba), thorium (Th), uranium (U), and W concentrations typically determined to ≤ 5% (2σ) uncertainty. We find that the partitioning behavior of U mirrors that of W during basalt genesis, whereas Ba and Th both behave more incompatibly. The W/U ratio of our complete sample suite (0.65 ± 0.45, 2σ) is representative of the mean modern mantle, and is indistinguishable from that of mid-ocean ridge basalts (W/UMORB = 0.65 ± 0.41, n = 52), ocean island basalts (W/UOIB = 0.63 ± 0.07, n = 10), and back-arc basin basalts (W/UBABB = 0.62 ± 0.09, n = 12). This ratio is also consistent with the W/U ratio of the continental crust, and thus represents the W/U ratio of the entire silicate portion of the Earth. Assuming a concentration of 20 ± 8 (2σ) ng/g U in the bulk silicate Earth, the abundance of W in the silicate Earth is 13 ± 10 ng/g. Following mass balance, this implies a mean modern mantle and core composition of 8.3 ± 7.1 ng/g W and 500 ± 120 ng/g W, respectively. Additionally, the MORB source is modeled to contain approximately 3.0 ± 2.3 ng/g W, indicating a four-fold depletion of the highly incompatible elements in the MORB source relative to the silicate Earth. Although both the isotopic composition of W and the constancy of the silicate Earth W/U ratio allow for potential insight into core-mantle exchange, both of these proxies are extremely dependent on the chemical composition of the source. A case study of three Hawaiian picrites with enrichments in 186Os-187Os but terrestrial ε182W can be explained by: i) a lack of a core component in the Hawaiian "plume," ii) crustal contamination, or iii) a source composition enriched in incompatible trace elements relative to the bulk silicate Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)656-665
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Aug 15


  • basalt
  • concentration ratio
  • core
  • mantle
  • tungsten
  • uranium


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