Review komatiites: from Earth’s geological settings to planetary and astrobiological contexts

Abstract

Komatiites are fascinating volcanic rocks. They are among the most ancient lavas of the Earth following the 3.8 Ga pillow basalts at Isua and they represent some of the oldest ultramafic magmatic rocks preserved in the Earth’s crust at 3.5 Ga. This fact, linked to their particular features (high magnesium content, high melting temperatures, low dynamic viscosities, etc.), has attracted the community of geoscientists since their discovery in the early sixties, who have tried to determine their origin and understand their meaning in the context of terrestrial mantle evolution. In addition, it has been proposed that komatiites are not restricted to our planet, but they could be found in other extraterrestrial settings in our Solar System (particularly on Mars and Io). It is important to note that komatiites may be extremely significant in the study of the origins and evolution of Life on Earth. They not only preserve essential geochemical clues of the interaction between the pristine Earth rocks and atmosphere, but also may have been potential suitable sites for biological processes to develop. Thus, besides reviewing the main geodynamic, petrological and geochemical characteristics of komatiites, this paper also aims to widen their investigation beyond the classical geological prospect, calling attention to them as attractive rocks for research in Planetology and Astrobiology.

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Abbreviations

BGB:

Barberton Greenstone Belt

GI:

Gorgona Island

HSE:

High siderophile element

LREE:

Light rare earth element

PGE:

Platinum group element

PH:

Pyke Hill

REE:

Rare earth element

VB:

Vetreny Belt

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Acknowledgements

We really thank referees Dallas Abbott and Nicholas Arndt whose helpful and constructive comments substantially improved the original manuscript. We also are particularly grateful to the referees for specific useful scientific remarks regarding the comparison of komatiites to Archean basalts (Dallas Abbott comment), and the interpretation of lunar lavas (Nicholas Arndt comment) which were incorporated verbatim into the article. Finally, we acknowledge the grant support of the National Institute of Aerospace Technique “Esteban Terradas” (INTA)—Centro de Astrobiología.

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Nna-Mvondo, D., Martinez-Frias, J. Review komatiites: from Earth’s geological settings to planetary and astrobiological contexts. Earth Moon Planet 100, 157–179 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11038-007-9135-9

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Keywords

  • Astrobiology
  • Earth
  • Geology
  • Komatiites
  • Origins and evolution of Life
  • Planetary bodies
  • Ultramafic
  • Volcanic rocks