Barium isotope systematics of subduction zones

Sune G. Nielsen, Yunchao Shu, Maureen Auro, Gene Yogodzinski, Ryuichi Shinjo, Terry Plank, Suzanne M. Kay, Tristan J. Horner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Subduction zones are the focal points of mass transfer between the surface and deep Earth. Despite their significance, there remains substantial debate regarding the specific mechanisms of material transport from the slab to the overlying magmatic arc. Broadly, models accounting for slab material transport focus on the relative sequence of events promoting arc volcanism and, in particular, whether mobilization of the down-going slab leads or lags mixing with the mantle wedge. To address these uncertainties, we outline the utility of barium (Ba) isotope mass balance in subduction zones as a means to test different slab material transport models. Barium is a highly fluid-mobile element that is significantly enriched in arc magmas and is thus thought to be a sensitive tracer of slab material transport in arcs. We also present qualitative Ba isotopic mass balances for two well-characterized subduction zones—the Aleutian and Ryukyu magmatic arcs—by analyzing the Ba isotope systematics of their respective subduction inputs and outputs. Despite the narrow (and similar) Ba-isotope range of slab inputs to both systems, we find that erupted magmas exhibit systematic variations indicative of a small negative isotope fractionation during Ba mobilization (≈20–40 ppm AMU−1). We suggest that AOC (altered oceanic crust) is not the principal source of these negative isotope values using other geochemical parameters (e.g., Rb/Ba, Pb isotopes), and infer that the Ba isotope composition of AOC—though contributing a minor amount of Ba in these systems—is isotopically heavier than the overlying sediment package and the depleted mantle. Altogether, these findings are significant as they indicate that the magnitude of isotope fractionation associated with Ba mobilization is small relative to the likely isotopic contrast between subduction inputs in other subduction zones, such as beneath areas of strong ocean upwelling (e.g., South Sandwich, Kamchatka). Thus, we propose that the Ba isotope composition of erupted arc magmas holds great promise for constraining the importance of different slab components, which could help address uncertainties regarding the mechanism of slab material transport in subduction zones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - Apr 15 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Altered oceanic crust
  • Arc
  • Fluids
  • Magma
  • Mantle
  • Sediments
  • Slab material transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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