Original Paper

Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology

, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 13-33

First online:

Uniformly mantle-like δ18O in zircons from oceanic plagiogranites and gabbros

  • Craig B. GrimesAffiliated withDepartment of Geoscience, WiscSIMS, University of WisconsinDepartment of Geosciences, Mississippi State University Email author 
  • , Takayuki UshikuboAffiliated withDepartment of Geoscience, WiscSIMS, University of Wisconsin
  • , Barbara E. JohnAffiliated withDepartment of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming
  • , John W. ValleyAffiliated withDepartment of Geoscience, WiscSIMS, University of Wisconsin

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Lower ocean crust is primarily gabbroic, although 1–2% felsic igneous rocks that are referred to collectively as plagiogranites occur locally. Recent experimental evidence suggests that plagiogranite magmas can form by hydrous partial melting of gabbro triggered by seawater-derived fluids, and thus they may indicate early, high-temperature hydrothermal fluid circulation. To explore seawater–rock interaction prior to and during the genesis of plagiogranite and other late-stage magmas, oxygen-isotope ratios preserved in igneous zircon have been measured by ion microprobe. A total of 197 zircons from 43 plagiogranite, evolved gabbro, and hydrothermally altered fault rock samples have been analyzed. Samples originate primarily from drill core acquired during Ocean Drilling Program and Integrated Ocean Drilling Program operations near the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest Indian Ridges. With the exception of rare, distinctively luminescent rims, all zircons from ocean crust record remarkably uniform δ18O with an average value of 5.2 ± 0.5‰ (2SD). The average δ18O(Zrc) would be in magmatic equilibrium with unaltered MORB [δ18O(WR) ~ 5.6–5.7‰], and is consistent with the previously determined value for equilibrium with the mantle. The narrow range of measured δ18O values is predicted for zircon crystallization from variable parent melt compositions and temperatures in a closed system, and provides no indication of any interactions between altered rocks or seawater and the evolved parent melts. If plagiogranite forms by hydrous partial melting, the uniform mantle-like δ18O(Zrc) requires melting and zircon crystallization prior to significant amounts of water–rock interactions that alter the protolith δ18O. Zircons from ocean crust have been proposed as a tectonic analog for >3.9 Ga detrital zircons from the earliest (Hadean) Earth by multiple workers. However, zircons from ocean crust are readily distinguished geochemically from zircons formed in continental crustal environments. Many of the >3.9 Ga zircons have mildly elevated δ18O (6.0–7.5‰), but such values have not been identified in any zircons from the large sample suite examined here. The difference in δ18O, in combination with newly acquired lithium concentrations and published trace element data, clearly shows that the >3.9 Ga detrital zircons did not originate by processes analogous to those in modern mid-ocean ridge settings.


Zircon Oxygen isotopes SIMS Plagiogranite Ocean crust Hadean