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Sci Rep. 2018 Mar 16;8(1):4740. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-22877-7.

Active carbon sequestration in the Alpine mantle wedge and implications for long-term climate trends.

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Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy.
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy.
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Torino, Torino, Italy.
Center for Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST), North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC, USA.
Department of Mathematics and Geosciences, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy.
Institute of Geophysics, China Earthquake Administration, Beijing, People's Republic of China.
Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome, Italy.
ISSO, Arsita, Italy.


The long-term carbon budget has major implications for Earth's climate and biosphere, but the balance between carbon sequestration during subduction, and outgassing by volcanism is still poorly known. Although carbon-rich fluid inclusions and minerals are described in exhumed mantle rocks and xenoliths, compelling geophysical evidence of large-scale carbon storage in the upper mantle is still lacking. Here, we use a geophysical surface-wave seismic tomography model of the mantle wedge above the subducted European slab to document a prominent shear-wave low-velocity anomaly at depths greater than 180 km. We propose that this anomaly is generated by extraction of carbonate-rich melts from the asthenosphere, favoured by the breakdown of slab carbonates and hydrous minerals after cold subduction. The resulting transient network of carbon-rich melts is frozen in the mantle wedge without producing volcanism. Our results provide the first in-situ observational evidence of ongoing carbon sequestration in the upper mantle at a plate-tectonic scale. We infer that carbon sequestered during cold subduction may partly counterbalance carbon outgassed from ridges and oceanic islands. However, subducted carbon may be rapidly released during continental rifting, with global effects on long-term climate trends and the habitability of planet Earth.

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