Subduction cycling of U, Th, and Pb

Katherine A. Kelley*, Terry Plank, Linda Farr, John Ludden, Hubert Staudigel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Citations (Scopus)


Many studies argue, based partly on Pb isotopic evidence, that recycled, subducted slabs reside in the mantle source of ocean island basalts (OIB) [1-3] [A.W. Hofmann, W.M. White, Mantle plumes from ancient oceanic crust. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 57 (1982) 421-436; B.L. Weaver, The origin of ocean island basalt end-member compositions: trace element and isotopic constraints. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 104 (1991) 381-397; J.C. Lassiter, E.H. Hauri, Osmium-isotope variations in Hawaiian lavas: evidence for recycled oceanic lithosphere in the Hawaiian plume, Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 164 (1998) 483-496]. Such models, however, have remained largely untested against actual subduction zone inputs, due to the scarcity of comprehensive measurements of both radioactive parents (Th and U) and radiogenic daughter (Pb) in altered oceanic crust (AOC). Here, we discuss new, comprehensive measurements of U, Th, and Pb concentrations in the oldest AOC, ODP Site 801, and consider the effect of subducting this crust on the long-term Pb isotope evolution of the mantle. The upper 500 m of AOC at Site 801 shows > 4-fold enrichment in U over pristine glass during seafloor alteration, but no net change to Pb or Th. Without subduction zone processing, ancient AOC would evolve to low 208Pb/206Pb compositions unobserved in the modern mantle [4] [S.R. Hart, H. Staudigel, Isotopic characterization and identification of recycled components, in: Crust/ Mantle Recycling at Convergence Zones, Eds. S.R. Hart, L. Gülen, NATO ASI Series. Series C: Mathematical and Physical Sciences 258, pp. 15-28, D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Boston, 1989]. Subduction, however, drives U-Th-Pb fractionation as AOC dehydrates in the earth's interior. Pacific arcs define mixing trends requiring 8-fold enrichment in Pb over U in AOC-derived fluid. A mass balance across the Mariana subduction zone shows that 44-75% of Pb but < 10% of U is lost from AOC to the arc, and a further 10-23% of Pb and 19-40% of U is lost to the back-arc. Pb is lost shallow and U deep from subducted AOC, which may be a consequence of the stability of phases binding these elements during seafloor alteration: U in carbonate and Pb in sulfides. The upper end of these recycling estimates, which reflect maximum arc and back-arc growth rates, remove enough Pb and U from the slab to enable it to evolve rapidly (≪ 0.5 Ga) to sources suitable to explain the 208Pb/206Pb isotopic array of OIB, although these conditions fail to simultaneously satisfy the 207Pb/ 206Pb system. Lower growth rates would require additional U loss (29%) at depths beyond the zones of arc and back-arc magmagenesis, which would decrease upper mantle κ (232Th/ 238U) over time, consistent with one solution to the "kappa conundrum" [5] [T. Elliott, A. Zindler, B. Bourdon, Exploring the kappa conundrum: the role of recycling in the lead isotope evolution of the mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 169 (1999) 129-145]. The net effects of alteration (doubling of μ [238U/ 204Pb]) and subduction (doubling of ω [232Th/ 204Pb]) are sufficient to create the Pb isotopic signatures of oceanic basalts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-383
Number of pages15
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2005


  • Altered oceanic crust
  • Lead
  • Mantle
  • Subduction
  • Thorium
  • Uranium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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