Into the deep and beyond: Carbon and nitrogen subduction recycling in secondary peridotites

E. Cannaò, M. Tiepolo, G. E. Bebout, M. Scambelluri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the volatile cycles at convergent margins is fundamental to unravel the Earth's evolution from primordial time to present. The assessment of fluid-mobile and incompatible element uptake in serpentinites via interaction with seawater and subduction-zone fluids is central to evaluate the global cycling of the above elements in the Earth's mantle. Here, we focus on the carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and C isotope compositions of chlorite harzburgites and garnet peridotites deriving from subduction-zone dehydration of former oceanic dehydration of serpentinite – i.e., metaperidotites (Cima di Gagnone, Swiss Central Alps) with the aim of evaluating the contribution of these rocks to the global C-N cycling. These ultramafic rocks, enclosed as lenses in a metasedimentary mélange, represent the destabilization of antigorite and chlorite at high-pressure/temperature (P/T) along a slab-mantle interface. Chlorite- and garnet-bearing rocks have similar ranges in C concentration ([C] = 210 – 2465 ppm and 304 – 659 ppm, respectively), with one magnesite-bearing chlorite harzburgite hosting 11000 ppm C. The average N concentrations ([N]) of the garnet peridotites (54 ± 15 ppm, one standard deviation indicated) are higher than those of the chlorite harzburgites (29 ± 6 ppm). The δ13C of total C (TC) and total organic C (TOC) values of the Gagnone metaperidotites range from -12.2 to -17.8‰ and from -27.8 to -26.8‰, respectively, excluding the magnesite-bearing chlorite harzburgites with higher values of -7.2‰ (TC) and -21.2‰ (TOC). The [C] of these rocks are comparable to those of serpentinites form modern and ancient oceanic environments and with [C] of high-P serpentinites. However, the lack of preserved serpentinite precursors makes it difficult to determine whether release of H2O during high-P breakdown of antigorite and chlorite is coupled with significant C release to fluids. The δ13C values appear to reflect mixing between seawater-derived carbonate and a reduced C source and a contribution from the host metasedimentary rocks ([C] = 301 ppm; [N] = 33 ppm; TC δ13C = -24.4‰; TOC δ13C = -27.0‰) cannot be completely excluded. The C-O isotope composition of the carbonate in magnesite-bearing chlorite harzburgites is compatible with progressive devolatilization at oxidized conditions, whereas the signatures of the majority of the other Gagnone samples appear to reflect different degree of interaction with sedimentary fluids. The [N] of the Gagnone metaperidotites are higher than those of oceanic and subducted serpentinites and show a range similar to that of high-P antigorite-serpentinites from mantle wedges. This enrichment is compatible with fluid-mediated chemical exchange with the surrounding metasedimentary rocks leading to strong modification of the Gagnone metaperidotites' geochemistry during prograde subduction along the slab-mantle interface. Comparing the δ13C data reported in this study with published δ13C values for diamonds, we suggest that the volatile recycling via Gagnone-like metaperidotites in subduction zones could contribute to deep-Earth diamond genesis and in particular to the formation of blue boron (B)-bearing diamonds. Our results highlight that the subduction of secondary peridotites evolved along the slab-mantle interface is a viable mechanism to inject volatiles into the deep mantle, particularly in hotter geothermal regimes such as the ones active during the early Earth's history.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116328
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • blue boron diamonds
  • carbon
  • carbon isotope
  • nitrogen
  • serpentinites
  • subduction zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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