The University of Arizona

Large-ion lithophile element fractionation during the early differentiation of Mars and the composition of the martian primitive mantle

Scott M. McLennan


Basaltic shergottites display a systematic decrease in K/Th, K/U, and K/La ratios with increasing K content. These trends are interpreted as mixing lines between relatively young martian magmas derived from highly depleted mantle sources and an ancient large-ion lithophile (LIL) element-enriched crustal component. One implication of this is that a substantial fractionation of these ratios occurs during the early crustal differentiation on Mars. Isotopic evidence from SNC meteorites and compositional data from Pathfinder and orbital gamma ray spectroscopy suggest that in excess of 50% of the LIL element complement of Mars resides in the crustal reservoir. If so, the primitive mantle of Mars is significantly more volatile-depleted (i.e., lower K/Th, K/U, K/La) than previously thought but probably (though not necessarily) still less volatile-depleted than the primitive mantle of the Earth. The La/Th ratios of virtually all SNC meteorites are subchondritic, including those with the most severe LREE-depletion. Extrapolation of the basaltic shergottite trend suggests that both the depleted mantle end member and the enriched crustal end member have subchondritic La/Th ratios. This is in contrast with the Earth where basalts from LIL element-depleted sources such as MORB have superchondritic La/Th ratios, complementary to the subchondritic ratios of the continental crust. Accordingly, assuming that the refractory elements are in chondritic proportions for the Mars primitive mantle, an additional major geochemical reservoir must exist on Mars that may not yet have been sampled.


SNC meteorites;Mars;crust

Full Text: