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Nature. 2009 Nov 12;462(7270):209-12. doi: 10.1038/nature08517.

Permeability of asthenospheric mantle and melt extraction rates at mid-ocean ridges.

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Institute for Mineralogy and Petrology, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Magmatic production on Earth is dominated by asthenospheric melts of basaltic composition that have mostly erupted at mid-ocean ridges. The timescale for segregation and transport of these melts, which are ultimately responsible for formation of the Earth's crust, is critically dependent on the permeability of the partly molten asthenospheric mantle, yet this permeability is known mainly from semi-empirical and analogue models. Here we use a high-pressure, high-temperature centrifuge, at accelerations of 400g-700g, to measure the rate of basalt melt flow in olivine aggregates with porosities of 5-12 per cent. The resulting permeabilities are consistent with a microscopic model in which melt is completely connected, and are one to two orders of magnitude larger than predicted by current parameterizations. Extrapolation of the measurements to conditions characteristic of asthenosphere below mid-ocean ridges yields proportionally higher transport speeds. Application of these results in a model of porous-media channelling instabilities yields melt transport times of approximately 1-2.5 kyr across the entire asthenosphere, which is sufficient to preserve the observed (230)Th excess of mid-ocean-ridge basalts and the mantle signatures of even shorter-lived isotopes such as (226)Ra (refs 5,11-14).


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