Chemical heterogeneity in the upper mantle recorded by peridotites and chromitites from the Shetland Ophiolite Complex, Scotland

Brian O'Driscoll, James M.D. Day, Richard J. Walker, J. Stephen Daly, William F. McDonough, Philip M. Piccoli

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79 Citations (Scopus)


The timing, causes and extent of mantle heterogeneity preserved in the ~492Ma Shetland Ophiolite Complex (Scotland) are evaluated using Re-Os isotope and whole rock highly siderophile element (HSE: Os, Ir, Ru, Pt, Pd, Re) abundance measurements of a suite of eight chromitites and 21 serpentinised harzburgites and dunites. Shetland dunites have more variable initial 187Os/ 188Os, as well as absolute and relative abundances of the HSE, compared to spatially associated harzburgites. As is common for ophiolitic peridotites, the harzburgites (γ Os492Ma of -5.3 to +2.6) preserve evidence for a Mesoproterozoic depletion event, but are dominated by contemporary chondritic, ambient upper mantle compositions. The dunites have γ Os492Ma values ranging between -3.3 and +12.4, reflecting dunite formation by higher degrees of melt interaction with mantle rock than for the spatially associated harzburgites. Chromitite seams from three locations separated by <500m have a large range in HSE concentrations (e.g., 0.09 to ~2.9μgg -1 Os) with initial γ Os492Ma values ranging only from +0.48 to +3.95. Sulphides, arsenides and platinum-group minerals are the primary hosts for the HSE in the chromitites. Their isotopic variations reflect initial isotopic heterogeneity in their primary magmatic signatures. Coupled with field observations that support chromitite formation in concentrated zones of enhanced melt flow, the isotopic dichotomy between the harzburgites and the chromitites suggests that chromitite 187Os/ 188Os compositions may better approximate the upper limit, rather than an average value, of the bulk convecting upper mantle. The Shetland peridotite compositions reflect protracted melt depletion (low-Al 2O 3) and melt percolation events in a supra-subduction zone (SSZ) setting at ~492Ma, following an earlier (Mesoproterozoic) melt-depletion event. These results provide further evidence that ancient chemical complexities can be preserved in the upper mantle during ocean plate formation. Chromitites and peridotites from the Shetland Ophiolite Complex also attest to lithological and geochemical heterogeneities generated at scales of less than tens of metres during the formation of ancient oceanic lithosphere by high-degree SSZ melt extraction, percolation and during chromitite formation in the oceanic lithosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-237
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Jun 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Highly siderophile elements
  • Mantle heterogeneity
  • Melt depletion
  • Os isotopes
  • Shetland Ophiolite Complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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