Physics and Chemistry of Minerals

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 95–122 | Cite as

Experimental petrology of peridotites, including effects of water and carbon on melting in the Earth’s upper mantle

  • David H. GreenEmail author
Original Paper


For over 50 years, the use of high-pressure piston/cylinder apparatus combined with an increasing diversity of microbeam analytical techniques has enabled the study of mantle peridotite compositions and of magmas derived by melting in the upper mantle. The experimental studies have been guided by the petrology and geochemistry of peridotites from diverse settings and by the remarkable range of mantle-derived magma types. Recent experimental study using FTIR spectroscopy to monitor water content of minerals has shown that fertile lherzolite (MORB-source upper mantle) at ~1,000 °C can store ~200 ppm H2O in defect sites in nominally anhydrous minerals (olivine, pyroxenes, garnet and spinel). Water in excess of 200 ppm stabilizes amphibole (pargasite) at P < 3 GPa up to the lherzolite solidus. However, at P > 3 GPa, water in excess of 200 ppm appears as an aqueous vapour phase and this depresses the temperature of the upper mantle solidus. Provided the uppermost mantle (lithosphere) has H2O < 4,000 ppm, the mantle solidus has a distinctive P, T shape. The temperature of the vapour-undersaturated or dehydration solidus is approximately constant at 1,100 °C at pressures up to ~3 GPa and then decreases sharply to ~1,010 °C. The strongly negative dT/dP of the vapour-undersaturated solidus of fertile lherzolite from 2.8 to 3 GPa provides the basis for understanding the lithosphere/asthenosphere boundary. Through upward migration of near-solidus hydrous silicate melt, the asthenosphere becomes geochemically zoned with the ‘enriched’ intraplate basalt source (>500 ppm H2O) overlying the ‘depleted’ MORB source (~200 ppm H2O). From the study of primitive MOR picrites, the modern mantle potential temperature for MORB petrogenesis is ~1,430 °C. The intersection of the 1,430 °C adiabat with the vapour-saturated lherzolite solidus at ~230 km suggests that upwelling beneath mid-ocean ridges begins around this depth. In intraplate volcanism, diapiric upwelling begins from shallower depths and lower temperatures within the asthenosphere and the upwelling lherzolite is enriched in water, carbonate and incompatible elements. Magmas including olivine melilitites, olivine nephelinites, basanites, alkali picrites and tholeiitic picrites are consequences of increasing melt fraction and decreasing pressure at melt segregation. Major element, trace element and isotopic characteristics of island chain or ‘hot-spot’ magmas show that they sample geochemically distinct components in the upper mantle, differing from MORB sources. There is no evidence for higher-temperature ‘hot-spot’ magmas, relative to primitive MORB, but there is evidence for higher water, CO2 and incompatible element contents. The distinctive geochemical signatures of ‘hot-spot’ magmas and their ‘fixed’ position and long-lived activity relative to plate movement are attributed to melt components derived from melting at interfaces between old, oxidised subducted slabs (suspended beneath or within the deeper asthenosphere) and ambient, reduced mantle. In convergent margin volcanism, the inverted temperature gradients inferred for the mantle wedge above the subducting lithosphere introduce further complexity which can be explored by overlaying the phase relations of appropriate mantle and crustal lithologies. Water and carbonate derived from the subducted slab play significant roles, magmas are relatively oxidised, and distinctive primary magmas such as boninites, adakites and island arc ankaramites provide evidence for fluxing of melting in refractory harzburgite to lherzolite by slab-derived hydrous adakitic melt and by wedge-derived carbonatite.


IMA medal lecture Upper mantle Lithosphere/asthenosphere boundary Basalt petrogenesis Lherzolite 



This essay on basalts and ultramafic rocks and on the Earth’s upper mantle has its beginning in 1,956 in the mapping of an ultramafic complex in northern Tasmania and draws from research carried out from that time to the present, mainly at University of Tasmania and Australian National University. I am grateful for the excellent support of both universities, including continuing ‘post-retirement’ support from both institutions. As is evident from the text and references, the research summarised is from a team which included excellent technical support (recognising Bill Hibberson and Keith Harris in particular) and successive Ph.D. students, postdoctoral fellows and international visitors. For the theme of this paper, Trevor Falloon, Lynton Jaques, Gerhard Brey, Wayne Taylor, Steve Foley, Margaret Wallace, Kiyoaki Niida, Greg Yaxley, Anja Rosenthal and Istvan Kovacs are particularly acknowledged. Ted Ringwood founded the high-pressure experimental laboratory at ANU and led me from peridotite outcrops to include the upper mantle—his stimulus was central to the theme of this summary. June Pongratz is thanked for preparation of the figures for this paper. I am honoured by the award of the IMA medal and thank Gerhard Brey, Water Maresch and Catherine McCammon for their patience and support in the transformation of ‘lecture’ to manuscript.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Ore Deposit and Exploration Studies, School of Earth SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia

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