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Basalts. Why study basalts? How are they classified? What are the significant differences chemical between terrestrial and extraterrestrial basalts? Summary models for origin of terrestrial and lunar basalts and basaltic achondrite meteorites.

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Basalts l.jpg


  • Why study basalts?

  • How are they classified?

  • What are the significant differences chemical between terrestrial and extraterrestrial basalts?

  • Summary models for origin of terrestrial and lunar basalts and basaltic achondrite meteorites.

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Trace Element Fractionation During Partial Melting


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Basalt Types-Major Element Variation

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Alkaline and Subalkaline Rock Suites

15,164 samples

Irregular solid line defines the boundary between Ne-norm rocks

Le Bas et al., 1992; Le Roex et al., 1990; Cole, 1982; Hildreth & Moorbath, 1988

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Tholeiitic vs. Calc-alkaline Trends

Terms emerged from tangled history

spanning many decades. CA label

proposed by Peacock in 1931.

Tholeiite originated in mid-1800’s

from Tholey, western Germany.

Rocks show stronger Fe/Mg

enrichment than CA trend.

Tholeiites are commonly found

island arcs, while CA rocks

are more commonly found

in continental arcs.

Cole, 1982

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K2O content of subalkaline rocks

K2O content

may broadly

correlate with

crustal thickness.

Low-K 12 km

Med-K 35 km

High-K 45 km

Ewart, 1982

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Classification of Basalts

  • Three basalt types recognized based on their degree of silica saturation:

    • Quartz-hypersthene normative (Q + Hy)

      quartz tholeiite

    • Olivine-hypersthene normative (Ol + Hy)

      olivine tholeiite

    • Nepheline normative (Ne)

      alkaline basalt

  • Tholeiitic basalts make up the oceanic crust, continental flood basalt provinces, and some large intrusions.

  • Alkaline basalts are found in oceanic islands and some continental rift environments.

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Yoder & Tilley Basalt Tetrahedron

Yoder & Tilley, 1962; Le Maitre

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Basalt Types - Trace Elements

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Partition Coefficients for REEs

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Partition Coefficients for REE in Melts

Dbulk = X1D1 + X2D2 + X3D3 + … + XnDn

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Chondrite Normalized REE patterns

  • By “normalizing” (dividing by abundances in chondrites), the “sawtooth” pattern can be removed.

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Differentiation of the Earth

  • Melts extracted from the mantle rise to the crust, carrying with them their “enrichment” in incompatible elements

    • Continental crust becomes “incompatible element enriched”

    • Mantle becomes “incompatible element depleted”


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Sr Isotope Evolution on Earth


Time before present (Ga)


Time before present (Ga)

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Sr and Nd Isotope Correlations:The Mantle Array

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Terrestrial Basalt Generation Summary

  • MORBs are derived from the partial melting of a previously depleted upper mantle under largely anhydrous conditions at relatively shallow depths.

  • True primary mantle melts are rare, although the most primitive alkali basalts are thought to represent the best samples of direct mantle melts.

  • The trace element and isotopic ratio differences among N-MORB (normal), E-MORB (enriched), IAB, and OIB indicate that the Earth’s upper mantle has long-lived and physically distinct source regions.

  • Ancient komatiites (>2.5 Ga) indicate that the Earth’s upper mantle was hotter in the Archean, but already depleted of continental crustal components.

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Lunar Surface

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Apollo 15 Basalt Sample

Vesicles -


derived from

CO degassing

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Lunar Olivine Basalt Thinsection

Fe-Ti oxides


Olivine + aligned MIs


Plane Polarized Light

Sample collected from the SE end of

Mare Procellarum by the Apollo 12 mission.

Interpreted as a Lava Lake basalt.

Cross Polarized Light


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Lunar Anorthosite Thinsection


Fractured Plagioclase Feldspar

Rock is 98% fsp,

An95 to An97

Plane Polarized Light

Highly brecciated lunar anorthosite was

collected by the Apollo 16 mission to the

lunar highlands SW of Mare Tranquillitatis.

It has been dated at 4.44 Ga.

Cross Polarized Light


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Earth Mars-sized Impact Model for Lunar Origin

Impact + 0.5 hr

Impact + 5hr

From: Kipp & Melosh, 1986 (above) and W. Hartmann paintings of Cameron, Benz, & Melosh models (right)

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Features of the Giant Impact Hypothesis

  • Original idea paper by Hartmann & Davis, 1975; additional geochemical research by Michael Drake and computer models by Jay Melosh and colleagues.

  • Impact occurs soon after Earth’s core formation event because of the small lunar Fe core and difference in bulk density (rMoon = 3.3 g/cc << rEarth = 5.5 g/cc).

  • Impact event must occur before formation of the lunar highlands at 4.4 Ga, which formed as a result of the crystallization of the lunar magma ocean. Lunar differentiation continues w/ basalt genesis (3.95 to 3.15 Ga).

  • Oxygen isotope compositions of lunar and terrestrial rocks are similar, but different from Mars and meteorites. Earth-Moon must be made of the same stuff.

  • Volatiles are depleted in the proto-moon during impact event. This is consistent with geochemistry and petrology of lunar samples.

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Lunar Interior Composition

From: BVSP, 1986 and Taylor, 1987

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Lunar Basalt Generation Summary

  • All lunar basalts are ancient in comparison with MORBs (~100 Ma average age). Lunar basalt ages range between 3.95 to 3.15 Ga.

  • Mare regions resemble continental flood basalt provinces and ocean plateaus in areal extent.

  • Several distinctly different compositions (e.g. KREEP, Hi-Ti, Low-Ti), which likely reflect different source regions that developed during post magma-ocean crystallization.

  • Strong positive Eu anomalies in highlands Anorthosites is complemented by Eu depletion in all lunar basalts.

  • Younger basalts are more primitive and may be derived from deeper sources. This could reflect increased internal heating from radioactive decay.

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Other Extraterrestrial Basalts - I

  • Basaltic achondrite meteorites have compositions, textures, and mineralogies that are broadly similar to terrestrial basalts.

  • Eucrites and Howardites all have ancient crystallization ages of ~4.6 Ga. Again very different from Earth and the Moon.

  • Oxygen isotopic ratios are distinct from terrestrial rocks, thus they are derived from a different region in the solar system.

  • Achondrites are derived from Eucrite Parent Body, which must have had a mantle dominated by olivine and pyroxene depleted in alkalis and volatiles and a high Fe/Mg. Melting occurred in the presence of plagioclase, so the body must be small to have low P at high T!

  • Asteroid Vesta (540 km diameter) is a candidate for the EPB as its surface is covered in basalt, but this is just speculation.

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Asteroid Vesta - Eucrite Parent Body?

Spectroscopy of surface

from HST indicates

two types of basalts.

Large crater found near

South Pole! Source of


From: B. Zellner and NASA

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Viking 2 Lander Site Mars - Basalt Flow Field?

Image Source: NASA

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Shergotty Meteorite - Martian Basalt Sample?

Photo credit: Robby Score, JSC

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SNC and Martian Basalt Summary

  • SNC (Shergotty, Nakhla, Chassigny) meteorites are thought to be derived from Mars. Shergottites are most similar to terrestrial basalts while nakhilites are cumulate peridotites. All SNC show shock metamorphism.

  • Oxygen isotopic signatures different from Earth and Moon.

  • Noble gas ratios are similar to modern Mars atmosphere and very different from Earth. Fe/Mg ratio higher than Earth. Mars may not have a Fe-rich core.

  • ~1.3 Ga crystallization ages are much young than other basaltic meteorites. Corresponds to period of active basaltic resurfacing on Mars based on crater density.

  • Mechanism for ejection from Mars surface is still problematical.

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