Assessing the utility of thallium and thallium isotopes for tracing subduction zone inputs to the Mariana arc

J. Prytulak*, S. G. Nielsen, T. Plank, M. Barker, T. Elliott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


We provide the first exploration of thallium (Tl) abundances and stable isotope compositions as potential tracers during arc lava genesis. We present a case study of lavas from the Central Island Province (CIP) of the Mariana arc, supplemented by representative sedimentary and altered oceanic crust (AOC) inputs from ODP Leg 129 Hole 801 outboard of the Mariana trench. Given the large Tl concentration contrast between the mantle and subduction inputs coupled with previously published distinctive Tl isotope signatures of sediment and AOC, the Tl isotope system has great potential to distinguish different inputs to arc lavas. Furthermore, CIP lavas have well-established inter island variability, providing excellent context for the examination of Tl as a new stable isotope tracer.

In contrast to previous work (Nielsen et al., 2006b), we do not observe Tl enrichment or light epsilon Tl-205 (where epsilon Tl-205 is the deviation in parts per 10,000 of a sample Tl-205/Tl-203 ratio compared to NIST SRM 997 Tl standard) in the Jurassic-aged altered mafic ocean crust subducting outboard of the Marianas (epsilon Tl-205 = -4.4 to 0). The lack of a distinctive epsilon Tl-205 signature may be related to secular changes in ocean chemistry. Sediments representative of the major lithologies from ODP Hole Leg 129 801 have 1-2 orders of magnitude of Tl enrichment compared to the CIP lavas, but do not record heavy signatures (epsilon Tl-205 = -3.0 to +0.4), as previously found in similar sediment types (epsilon Tl-205 > +2.5; Rehkamper et al., 2004).

We find a restricted range of epsilon Tl-205 = -1.8 to -0.4 in CIP lavas, which overlaps with MORB. One lava from Guguan falls outside this range with epsilon Tl-205 = +1.2. Coupled Cs, Tl and Pb systematics of Guguan lavas suggests that this heavy Tl isotope composition may be due to preferential degassing of isotopically light Tl. In general, the low Tl concentrations and limited isotopic range in the CIP lavas is likely due to the unexpectedly narrow range of epsilon Tl-205 found in Mariana subduction inputs, coupled with volcaniclastic, rather than pelagic sediment as the dominant source of Tl.

Much work remains to better understand the controls on Tl processing through a subduction zone. For example, Tl could be retained in residual phengite, offering the potential exploration of Cs/Tl ratios as a slab thermometer. However, data for Tl partitioning in phengite (and other micas) is required before developing this application further. Establishing a database of Tl concentrations and stable isotopes in subduction zone lavas with different thermal parameters and sedimentary inputs is required for the future use of Tl as a subduction zone tracer. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-149
Number of pages11
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2013


  • Mariana Islands
  • Subduction
  • Phengite
  • Thallium stable isotopes

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