Back to overview

Geochemistry of ocean floor and forearc serpentinites: Constraints on the ultramafic input to subduction zones

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2012
Author Kodolányi J. Pettke T. Spandler C. Kamber B.S. Gméling K. ,
Project Fluids in subduction zones
Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Petrology
Volume (Issue) 53
Page(s) 235 - 270
Title of proceedings Journal of Petrology


We provide new insights into the geochemistry of serpentinites from mid-ocean ridges (Mid-Atlantic Ridge and Hess Deep), passive margins (Iberia Abyssal Plain and Newfoundland) and fore-arcs (Mariana and Guatemala) based on bulk-rock and in situ mineral major and trace element compositional data collected on drill cores from the Deep Sea Drilling Project and Ocean Drilling Program. These data are important for constraining the serpentinite-hosted trace element inventory of subduction zones. Bulk serpentinites show up to several orders of magnitude enrichments in Cl, B, Sr, U, Sb, Pb, Rb, Cs and Li relative to elements of similar compatibilityduring mantle melting, which correspond to the highest primitive mantle-normalized B/Nb, B/Th, U/Th, Sb/Ce, Sr/Nd and Li/Y among subducted lithologies of the oceanic lithosphere (serpentinites, sediments and altered igneous oceanic crust). Among the elements showing relative enrichment, Cl and B are by far the most abundant with bulk concentrations mostly above 1000 mg / g and 30 mg / g, respectively. All other trace elements showing relative enrichments are generally present in low concentrations (mg / g level), except Sr in carbonate-bearing serpentinites (thousands of mg / g). In situ data indicate that concentrations of Cl, B, Sr, U, Sb, Rb and Cs are, and that of Li can be, increased by serpentinization.These elementsare largely hosted in serpentine (lizardite and chrysotile, but not antigorite). Aragonite precipitation leads to significant enrichments in Sr, U and B, whereas calcite is important only as an Sr host. Commonly observed brucite is trace element-poor.The overall enrichment patterns are comparable among serpentinites from mid-ocean ridges, passive margins and fore-arcs, whereas the extents ofenrichments are often specific to the geodynamic setting. Variability in relative trace element enrichments within a specific setting (and locality) can be several orders of magnitude. Mid-ocean ridge serpentinites often show pronounced bulk-rock U enrichment in addition to ubiquitous Cl, B and Sr enrichment.They also exhibit positive Eu anomalies on chondrite-normalized rare earth element plots. Passive margin serpentinites tend to have higher overall incompatible trace element contents than mid-ocean ridge and fore-arc serpentinites and show the highest B enrichment among all the studied serpentinites. Fore-arc serpentinites are characterized by low overall trace element contents and show the lowest Cl, but the highest Rb, Cs and Sr enrichments. Based on our data, subducted dehydrating serpentinites are likely to release fluids with high B/Nb, B/Th, U/Th, Sb/Ce and Sr/Nd, rendering them one of the potential sources of some of the characteristic trace element fingerprints of arc magmas(e.g. high B/Nb, high Sr/Nd, high Sb/Ce). However, although serpentinites are a substantial part of global subduction zone chemical cycling, owing to their low overall trace element contents (except for B and Cl) their geochemical imprint on arc magma sources (apart from addition of H2O, B and Cl) can be masked considerably by the trace element signal from subducted crustal components.