The Pb isotope evolution of Bulk Silicate Earth: Constraints from its accretion and early differentiation history

Maltese, Alessandro; Mezger, Klaus (2020). The Pb isotope evolution of Bulk Silicate Earth: Constraints from its accretion and early differentiation history. Geochimica et cosmochimica acta, 271, pp. 179-193. Elsevier Science 10.1016/j.gca.2019.12.021

[img] Text
1-s2.0-S0016703719307781-main.pdf - Published Version
Restricted to registered users only
Available under License Publisher holds Copyright.

Download (496kB) | Request a copy
Maltese2020_postprint.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works (CC-BY-NC-ND).

Download (1MB) | Preview

Constraining the evolution of Pb isotopes in the bulk silicate Earth (BSE) is hampered due to the lack of a direct determination of Earth’s U/Pb and initial Pb isotope composition. All estimates of these parameters are strongly model dependent and most Pb evolution models start with a meteoritic source, i.e., the primordial Pb composition determined in troilite from the Canyon Diablo iron meteorite. During the condensation of the elements in the solar nebula, accretion of the Earth, and its subsequent chemical evolution, the U/Pb was modified. Different models make different assumptions about the timing and extent of this U-Pb fractionation during Earth’s chemical evolution that cannot always be related to known global geological processes at the time of this modification. This study explores geochemical constraints that can be related to known geological processes to derive an internally consistent model for the evolution of the U-Th-Pb systematics of the silicate Earth.

Lead is chalcophile, moderately volatile, and as a result strongly depleted in the BSE compared to primitive meteorites. Any process affecting the abundance and isotope composition of Pb in Earth throughout its early history has to be consistent with the abundance of elements with similar chemical and physical properties in the same reservoir. The abundances of refractory to moderately and highly volatile elements in the BSE imply that the proto Earth was highly depleted in volatile elements, and therefore evolved with a very high U/Pb (238U/204Pb = µ ≥ 100) prior to collision with the Moon-forming giant impactor. This impactor had close to chondritic abundances of moderately to highly volatile elements and delivered most of Earth’s volatile elements, including the Pb budget. Addition of this volatile-rich component caused oxidation of Earth’s mantle and allowed effective transfer of Pb into the core via sulfide melt segregation. Sequestration of Pb into the core therefore accounts for the high µBSE, which has affected ca. 53% of Earth’s Pb budget. In order to account for the present-day Pb isotope composition of BSE, the giant impact must have occurred at 69 ± 10 Myr after the beginning of the solar system. Using this point in time, a model-derived µ-value and the corresponding initial Pb isotope composition of BSE, a single stage Pb isotope evolution curve can be deduced. The result is a model evolution curve for BSE in 208Pb-207Pb-206Pb-204Pb-isotope space that is fully consistent with geochemical constraints on Earth’s accretionary sequence and differentiation history. This Pb-evolution model may act as a reference frame to trace the silicate Earth’s differentiation into crust and mantle reservoirs, similar to the CHUR reference line used for other radio-isotope systems. It also highlights the long-standing Th/U paradox of the ancient Earth.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences > Isotope Geology

UniBE Contributor:

Maltese, Alessandro, Mezger, Klaus


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
500 Science




Elsevier Science




Klaus Mezger

Date Deposited:

17 Feb 2020 12:50

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2023 07:13

Publisher DOI:





Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback