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We report high-precision K isotopes, apatite U–Pb ages, whole-rock elements and Sr–Nd isotopes for the Saima nephelite syenite in the North China Craton. Trace-element and Sr–Nd–Hf–O isotope data indicate the presence of subducting sediments in the source region, while K isotopic compositions show a narrow range between –0.54 ‰ and –0.28 ‰, with an average of –0.41 ± 0.06 ‰, identical to the value of the asthenosphere. The nearly identical K isotopic compositions are low probability events compared with the K isotopic compositions of island arc lavas reported previously (–1.55 ‰ to +0.2 ‰). Although crustal contamination is consistent with the Sr–Nd–K isotopic data, alternatively we propose that the isotopic data also reconcile with the interaction between cratonic roots and the underlying convective asthenosphere, if this interaction is over prolonged periods of time. Numerical simulations successfully reproduced the observed data, if the metasomatism of the lithospheric mantle root, the source of the Saima alkaline rocks, occurred 500 Ma ago. Our study reveals that the isotopic compositions of fast-diffusion components in a lithospheric mantle metasomatized by ancient subducting melts can be effectively homogenized by convective asthenosphere through diffusion over a long time interval.
Laboratory experiments have shown that thermal gradients in silicate melts can lead to isotopic fractionation; this is known as the Richter effect. However, it is perplexing that the Richter effect has not been documented in natural samples as thermal gradients commonly exist within natural igneous systems. To resolve this discrepancy, theoretical analysis and calculations were undertaken. We found that the Richter effect, commonly seen in experiments with wholly molten silicates, cannot be applied to natural systems because natural igneous samples are more likely to be formed out of partially molten magma and the presence of minerals adds complexity to the behaviour of the isotope. In this study, we consider two related diffusion-rate kinetic isotope effects that originate from chemical diffusion, which are absent from experiments with wholly molten samples. We performed detailed calculations for magnesium isotopes, and the results indicated that the Richter effect for magnesium isotopes is buffered by kinetic isotope effects and the total value of magnesium isotope fractionation can be zero or even undetectable. Our study provides a new understanding of isotopic behaviour during the processes of cooling and solidification in natural magmatic systems.
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