Selenium isotopes indicate a chondritic origin of volatile elements on Earth

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 5:00 PM
Hauke Vollstaedt, Klaus Mezger and Ingo Leya, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
For a planet to provide conditions that are conducive for the origin and evolution of life, it is required to host liquid water and other volatile elements and compounds. The details of the planet forming processes starting from the condensation of matter in the solar nebula to the accretion of planets are, however, still elusive. Specifically, how planets like Venus, Earth, and Mars acquired their volatile element content, although they formed so close to the Sun and inside the snowline of the early solar system is a matter of the current scientific debate.

To constrain the origin and addition of moderately to highly volatile components to the rocky planets of the inner solar system we studied the variation of the isotopes of the highly volatile, chalcophile, and siderophile element selenium (Se) and its abundance in different early solar system materials, planetesimals, and planets. Selenium is depleted within the Silicate Earth relative to CI , but in chondritic-relative abundance to siderophile elements like S and Te (Wang and Becker, 2013). The latter might reflect the accretion of a chondritic ‘late veneer’ after core formation which might also be the dominant source of water and carbon.

The Se isotope composition (δ82/76Se) of ordinary and iron meteorites and a terrestrial sample (Green River Shale, SGR-1, USGS) were found to be identical within the measurement uncertainty. If the depletion of volatile elements on Earth were exclusively caused by removal during core formation and/or evaporation during planet formation, a strongly Se-depleted and isotopically fractionated silicate reservoir would be expected. The relatively uniform δ82/76Se values between different groups of meteorites and the terrestrial value point to a later addition of volatiles to Earth from a source that contained unfractionated Se isotopes and thus originates most likely from a region within the solar system where the volatile elements and compounds condensed quantitatively.

Wang, Z., Becker, H., 2013. Ratios of S, Se and Te in the silicate Earth require a volatile-rich late veneer. Nature 499, 328-331.