Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Journal articles

The origins and concentrations of water, carbon, nitrogen and noble gases on Earth

Abstract : The isotopic compositions of terrestrial hydrogen and nitrogen are clearly different from those of the nebular gas from which the solar system formed, and also differ from most of cometary values. Terrestrial N and H isotopic compositions are in the range of values characterizing primitive meteorites, which suggests that water, nitrogen, and other volatile elements on Earth originated from a cosmochemical reservoir that also sourced the parent bodies of primitive meteorites. Remnants of the proto-solar nebula (PSN) are still present in the mantle, presumably signing the sequestration of PSN gas at an early stage of planetary growth. The contribution of cometary volatiles appears limited to a few percents at most of the total volatile inventory of the Earth. The isotope signatures of H, N, Ne and Ar can be explained by mixing between two end-members of solar and chondritic compositions, respectively, and do not require isotopic fractionation during hydrodynamic escape of an early atmosphere. The terrestrial inventory of 40Ar (produced by the decay of 40K throughout the Earth's history) suggests that a significant fraction of radiogenic argon may be still trapped in the silicate Earth. By normalizing other volatile element abundances to this isotope, it is proposed that the Earth is not as volatile-poor as previously thought. Our planet may indeed contain up to ~3000 ppm water (preferred range : 1000-3000 ppm), and up to ~500 ppm C, both largely sequestrated in the solid Earth. This volatile content is equivalent to a ~2 (±1) % contribution of carbonaceous chondrite (CI-CM) material to a dry proto-Earth, which is higher than the contribution of chondritic material advocated to account for the platinum group element budget of the mantle. Such a (relatively) high contribution of volatile-rich matter is consistent with the accretion of a few wet planetesimals during Earth accretion, as proposed by recent dynamical models. The abundance pattern of major volatile elements and of noble gases is also chondritic, with two notable exceptions. Nitrogen is depleted by one order of magnitude relative to water, carbon and most noble gases, which is consistent with either N retention in a mantle phase during magma generation, or trapping of N in the core. Xenon is also depleted by one order of magnitude, and enriched in heavy isotopes relative to chondritic or solar Xe (the so-called "xenon paradox"). This depletion and isotope fractionation might have taken place due to preferential ionization of xenon by UV light from the early Sun, either before Earth's formation on parent material, or during irradiation of the ancient atmosphere. The second possibility is consistent with a recent report of chondritic-like Xe in Archean sedimentary rocks that suggests that this process was still ongoing during the Archean eon (Pujol et al., 2011). If the depletion of Xe in the atmosphere was a long-term process that took place after the Earth-building events, then the amounts of atmospheric 129Xe and 131-136Xe, produced by the short-lived radioactivities of 129I (T1/2 = 16 Ma) and 244Pu (T1/2 = 82 Ma), respectively, need to be corrected for subsequent loss. Doing so, the I-Pu-Xe age of the Earth becomes ≤50 Ma after start of solar system formation, instead of ~120 Ma as computed with the present-day atmospheric Xe inventory.
Complete list of metadatas

Cited literature [141 references]  Display  Hide  Download
Contributor : Bernard Marty <>
Submitted on : Friday, May 23, 2014 - 9:47:17 AM
Last modification on : Thursday, May 28, 2020 - 3:10:07 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Saturday, August 23, 2014 - 11:06:07 AM


Files produced by the author(s)




Bernard Marty. The origins and concentrations of water, carbon, nitrogen and noble gases on Earth. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Elsevier, 2012, 313-314, pp.56-66. ⟨10.1016/j.epsl.2011.10.040⟩. ⟨hal-00995304⟩



Record views


Files downloads