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Published May 18, 2017 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

The origin and degassing history of the Earth's atmosphere revealed by Archean xenon


Xenon (Xe) is an exceptional tracer for investigating the origin and fate of volatile elements on Earth. The initial isotopic composition of atmospheric Xe remains unknown, as do the mechanisms involved in its depletion and isotopic fractionation compared with other reservoirs in the solar system. Here we present high precision analyses of noble gases trapped in fluid inclusions of Archean quartz (Barberton, South Africa) that reveal the isotopic composition of the paleo-atmosphere at ≈3.3 Ga. The Archean atmospheric Xe is mass-dependently fractionated by 12.9±2.4 ‰ u^(−1) (± 2σ, s.d.) relative to the modern atmosphere. The lower than today ^(129)Xe excess requires a degassing rate of radiogenic Xe from the mantle higher than at present. The primordial Xe component delivered to the Earth's atmosphere is distinct from Solar or Chondritic Xe but similar to a theoretical component called U-Xe. Comets may have brought this component to the Earth's atmosphere during the last stages of terrestrial accretion.

Additional Information

© 2017 The Author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. Received: 20 June 2016; Accepted: 30 March 2017; Published online: 18 May 2017. N. Arndt and A. Hofmann are gratefully acknowledged for providing samples. L. Zimmermann is thanked for technical mentorship and assistance. Y. Marrocchi, M. Kuga, L.C.P. Martin and R. Belissont are thanked for insightful discussions. This project was funded by the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013 grant agreement no. 267255 to B.M.) and by the French Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et la Recherche (PhD funding to G.A.). R.B. acknowledges funding from UK NERC grant NE/M000427/1. This is CRPG contribution #2504. Author Contributions: G.A. and B.M. collected the samples. G.A. and R.B. performed the experiments. G.A., R.B. and B.M. analysed the data and wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023