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Partial silicate melting in the asthenospheric LVZ: Evidence from electrical conductivity of hydrous basaltic melts


Huaiwei Ni1, Hans Keppler1 & Harald Behrens2

1Bayerisches Geoinstitut, Universität Bayreuth, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany,

2Institut für Mineralogie, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Callinstr. 3, 30167 Hannover, Germany


This webpage is a summary of: Ni, Huaiwei, Hans Keppler & Harald Behrens, Electrical conductivity of hydrous basaltic melts: implications for partial melting in the upper mantle, Cont. Min. Pet., 162, 637-650, DOI: 10.1007/s00410-011-0617-4



Partial silicate melting in the asthenospheric LVZ is not a new idea, as the presence of silicate melt is known to reduce seismic velocity. Recent magnetotelluric studies (e.g., Evans et al., 2005) reported electrical conductivity as high as 0.1 S/m and strong conductivity anisotropy in the uppermost asthenosphere. Available electrical conductivity data of dry basaltic melt requires at least 5% mantle melting to match the observed conductivity anomaly, but it would be difficult for so much silicate melt to stay stable in the LVZ for a long period of time. Furthermore, such a degree of melt is not consistent with geochemical constraints. Some authors (e.g., Wang et al., 2006) resorted to hydrated mantle minerals, but later studies (Yoshino et al., 2006) showed that hydrated olivine cannot account for the observed anomaly or anisotropy. Carbonate melt is highly conductive and has also been proposed to be the conductive phase in the LVZ (Gaillard et al., 2008), but carbon concentration in the mantle is simply too low (several tens of ppm) to form enough carbonate melt, which contains at least 30 wt% CO2. Our study assesses whether hydrous silicate melt can reconcile the observations, as the transport properties of silicate melts are known to be significantly affected by a few percent dissolved water.

Conductivity measurements

We investigated the electrical conductivity of both H2O-bearing (0-6 wt% H2O) and CO2-bearing (0.5 wt% CO2) Fe-free basaltic melts at 2 GPa and 1473-1923 K in a piston cylinder apparatus (Figure 1). The H2O contents of starting glasses were analyzed by both Karl Fischer Titration and FTIR. A glass tube 4 mm long was bracketed by a Pt rod 0.5 mm in diameter (the inner electrode) and a Pt95Rh5 tube with an inner diameter of 3.2 mm (the outer electrode). The two electrodes were connected to a Solartron 1260 impedance analyzer using Pt wires 0.35 mm in diameter. Temperature was monitored using a Pt-Pt90Rh10 thermocouple, which was not involved in the circuit of conductivity measurements. The impedance contribution from the Pt wires was evaluated by a short-circuit experiment. Samples maintained their shape after experiments but showed some H2O loss. Conductivities acquired during the first heating cycle, which were least affected by H2O loss, are presented here.

Figure 1. Sketch of sample assembly for electrical conductivity measurements in a piston-cylinder apparatus (drawn to scale).


The electrical conductivity of basaltic melt depends on temperature and H2O content (Figure 2) according to the formula logs = 2.172 – (860.82 – 204.46 w0.5)/(T – 1146.8), where s is the electrical conductivity in S/m, T is the temperature in K, and w is the H2O content in wt%. The effect of small amounts of CO2 of the order of 0.5 wt% on electrical conductivity is negligible compared to the effect of H2O. The positive effect of water on conductivity is attributed to enhanced Na mobility and is more pronounced than that of felsic silicate melts. The conductivity of basaltic melt with > 6 wt% H2O approaches that of carbonatite melt.


Figure 2. Electrical conductivity of volatile-bearing basaltic melts at 2 GPa.


Implications for partial melting in the LVZ

Our results can be used to calculate the electrical conductivity of a partial molten mantle using the upper (HS+) and lower (HS-) bounds of Hashin & Shtrikman (1962) or the parallel model. In a depleted mantle source initially with 125 ppm water, assuming a conductivity of 0.01 S/m for the solid phases and a bulk water partition coefficient of 0.006 between minerals and melt, 2% of melt will result in a bulk mantle conductivity of 0.1 S/m based on the HS+ model (Figure 3). However, for plausible higher water contents, stronger water partitioning into the melt or a more efficient structure (the parallel model), even less than 1% of hydrous melt is sufficient to produce the observed conductivity. Taking this into consideration, our data suggest that between 0.3 and 2% of hydrous basaltic melt can account for the observed electrical conductivity in the LVZ. The melt should be segregated into tube-like structures, and elongated in the direction of plate spreading, which would be consistent with both the observed electric and seismic anisotropy.


Figure 3. Evolution of the electrical conductivity of the mantle (with 600 ppm or 125 ppm H2O) with increasing degree of partial melting, based on the lower bound (HS-) and upper bound (HS+) of Hashin & Shtrikman (1962), and the parallel model.



last updated 23rd September, 2011