Mantle Metasomatism

  • Suzanne Y. O’ReillyEmail author
  • W. L. Griffin
Part of the Lecture Notes in Earth System Sciences book series (LNESS)


Mantle metasomatism is a relatively recent concept introduced in the early 1970s when detailed studies of lithospheric mantle rock fragments (xenoliths), brought to the surface of in basaltic to kimberlitic magmas, became widespread. Two main types of metasomatism were defined: modal (or patent) metasomatism describes the introduction of new minerals; cryptic metasomatism describes changes in composition of pre-existing minerals without formation of new phases. A new type of metasomatism is introduced here, stealth metasomatism; this process involves the addition of new phases (e.g. garnet and/or clinopyroxene), but is a “deceptive” metasomatic process that adds phases indistinguishable mineralogically from common mantle peridotite phases. The recognition of stealth metasomatism reflects the increasing awareness of the importance of refertilisation by metasomatic fluid fronts in determining the composition of mantle domains. Tectonically exposed peridotite massifs provide an opportunity to study spatial relationships of metasomatic processes on a metre to kilometre scale.

The nature of mantle fluids can be determined from the nature of fluid inclusions in mantle minerals and indirectly from changes in the chemical (especially trace-element) compositions of mantle minerals. Metasomatic fluids in off-craton regions cover a vast spectrum from silicate to carbonate magmas containing varying types and abundances of dissolved fluids and solutes including brines, C-O-H species and sulfur-bearing components. Fluid inclusions in diamond and deep xenoliths reveal the presence of high-density fluids with carbonatitic and hydro-silicic and/or saline-brine end-members. The deep cratonic xenolith data also reinforce the importance of highly mobile melts spanning the kimberlite-carbonatite spectrum and that may become immiscible with changing conditions.

A critical conceptual advance in understanding Earth’s geodynamic behaviour is emerging from understanding the linkage between mantle metasomatism and the physical properties of mantle domains recorded by geophysical data. For example, metasomatic refertilisation of cratonic lithospheric mantle increases its density, lowers its seismic velocity and strongly affects its rheology. Introduction of heat-producing elements (U, Th, K) increases heat production, and the key to understanding electromagnetic signals from mantle domains may be closely related to fluid distribution and type (e.g. carbonatitic) and its residence in or between grains.

The lithospheric mantle is a palimpsest recording the multiple fluid events that have affected each domain since it formed. These events, involving different fluids and compositions, have repeatedly overprinted variably depleted original mantle wall-rocks. This produces a complex, essentially ubiquitously metasomatised lithospheric mantle, heterogeneous on scales of microns to terranes and perhaps leaving little or no “primary” mantle wall-rock. Decoding this complex record by identifying significant episodes and processes is a key to reconstructing lithosphere evolution and the nature and origin of the volatile flux from the deep Earth through time.


Fluid Inclusion Lithospheric Mantle Garnet Peridotite Peridotite Xenolith Mantle Metasomatism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The concepts and data presented in this review have evolved over several decades through collaborations with many valued colleagues and students, most of whom appear as authors and coauthors on the articles cited here. We would especially like to acknowledge Chris Ryan, whose development of the PIXE geoanalytical techniques provided geochemists with their first tool for rapid, quantitative in situ microanalysis of trace elements, and Norman Pearson, who over these years has developed many of the other in situ microanalysis techniques that now are pushing geochemical research into the future. He also has contributed greatly to the conceptual advances in understanding metasomatic processes that stemmed from the application of these geochemical techniques. The draft manuscript was improved by thoughtful reviews from Michel Gregoire and Hilary Downes and the editorial work of Daniel Harlov and Håkon Austrheim. This is publication 780 from the GEMOC National Key Centre (, and publication 5 from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems (


This list gives definitions of terms commonly encountered in discussions of mantle metasomatism; some of these terms are used differently in other types of geochemical and mantle studies.


The convecting portion of the Earth’s mantle; source of most mafic to ultramafic magmas, and reduced C-O-H fluids.


In the context of mantle metasomatism, depleted refers to rocks that are depleted in basaltic components – principally the major elements such as Ca, Al, Fe, and Ti. Depleted peridotites and their constituent minerals are highly magnesian; olivine typically is Fo93–95. Such compositions are also referred to as refractory because of their inferred origin as residues from the partial melting of more fertile primitive mantle.


In the context of mantle metasomatism, enriched refers to the addition of trace elements such as Sr, Ba, Zr, and rare-earth elements (REE) which can be highly mobile in the mantle rock-fluid systems. Mantle rocks that are depleted (as defined by major element compositions), can also be enriched if they have undergone cryptic metasomatism.


Refers to peridotites (typically lherzolites) with relatively high contents of basaltic components including major elements such as Ca, Al, Fe, and Ti and which also have significant trace-element abundances (but not necessarily as high as those for enriched compositions). Olivine is typically in the range Fo86–90. These rocks can represent cooled asthenosphere under regions of tectonic thinning or rifting, or originally depleted lithospheric mantle compositions that have been refertilised by metasomatism.


A volatile phase that would not form a rock on cooling or crystallisation. Mantle fluids include C-O-H phases such as H2O, CO2, CH4, and brines (high-density fluids, or HDF). At mantle pressures, such phases exist in the mantle in the liquid rather than vapour state.


The upper non-convecting part of the Earth, including the crust and the underlying subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM).


Throughout this Chapter the term “mantle” refers to “lithospheric mantle” unless otherwise specified.


A fluid phase that could form a rock on crystallisation. Mantle melts form a spectrum of compositions with overlaps and transitions. Low-degree melts range from carbonatite to kimberlite. High-degree melts range from basalt (sensu lato) to komatiite. Mantle carbonate and silicate melts can transport fluids and sulfide melts as dissolved components that become immiscible on fractionation and cooling.


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© Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems and GEMOC National Key Centre, Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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