Origin of the superchondritic carbon/nitrogen ratio of the bulk silicate Earth − an outlook from iron meteorites

1Damanveer S.Grewal,1Paul D.Asimow
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2023.01.012]
1Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, 1200 E California Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
Copyright Elsevier

Disagreement regarding the origin of the bulk silicate Earth’s (BSE) superchondritic carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio is due, in part, to the unknown C/N ratios of differentiated planetesimals − the building blocks of Earth-like rocky planets. In this study we report solid-liquid metal partitioning experiments for C and N that allow us to reconstruct, from the C and N contents of iron meteorites, the C/N ratios of the cores of the earliest formed planetesimals. Due to their siderophile character, most of the C and N retained in these bodies after differentiation resides in their cores. Therefore, estimates of the bulk C and N contents and C/N ratios of the cores yield confident estimates of these quantities in the complete parent bodies of iron meteorites. Our experimental data, at 1 GPa and 1200-1400 °C, show that C and N are incompatible in solid metal relative to S-poor liquids but compatible in solid metal relative to S-rich liquids. Crucially, N is approximately an order of magnitude more compatible than C in S-rich systems. S itself is incompatible in solid metal and so the late-crystallizing liquids persisting at the end of core freezing were S-rich for most cores. Although these late-crystallizing liquids are unsampled by iron meteorites, we infer that their N contents and C/N ratios were generally lower and higher, respectively, than those in iron meteorites. Depending upon the fraction of unsampled late-crystallizing liquids as well as their S contents, the C/N ratios of the bulk cores and complete parent bodies are either similar to or higher than those measured in iron meteorites. The reconstructed C/N ratios of most of the parent bodies of iron meteorites are chondritic, except that the volatile-rich IC and IIC groups have superchondritic C/N ratios. Importantly, the C/N ratio of the parent body of the IC iron meteorite group lies within the estimated range of the BSE, whereas the C/N ratios of all other groups are distinctly lower. Correlated depletion of moderately volatile elements like Ge and Ga with C and N, variations in metallographic cooling rates, and Pd-Ag isotope systematics suggest that the parent cores of the volatile-depleted iron meteorite groups were likely affected by volatile degassing. If volatile-rich iron meteorites like the IC group better capture the C and N inventories of the parent cores of the earliest formed planetesimals, then delivery of C and N via such planetesimals makes the superchondritic C/N ratio of the BSE a natural consequence of the Earth’s accretion history. Otherwise, poorly constrained processes like atmospheric erosion or C and N delivery by exotic materials are required to explain the superchondritic C/N ratio of the BSE.

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