Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

The mean composition of ocean ridge basalts


A. Gale, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, 20 Oxford St., Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. (


[1] The mean composition of mid-ocean ridge basalts (MORB) is determined using a global data set of major elements, trace elements, and isotopes compiled from new and previously published data. A global catalog of 771 ridge segments, including their mean depth, length, and spreading rate enables calculation of average compositions for each segment. Segment averages allow weighting by segment length and spreading rate and reduce the bias introduced by uneven sampling. A bootstrapping statistical technique provides rigorous error estimates. Based on the characteristics of the data, we suggest a revised nomenclature for MORB. “ALL MORB” is the total composition of the crust apart from back-arc basins, N-MORB the most likely basalt composition encountered along the ridge >500 km from hot spots, and D-MORB the depleted end-member. ALL MORB and N-MORB are substantially more enriched than early estimates of normal ridge basalts. The mean composition of back-arc spreading centers requires higher extents of melting and greater concentrations of fluid-mobile elements, reflecting the influence of water on back-arc petrogenesis. The average data permit a re-evaluation of several problems of global geochemistry. The K/U ratio reported here (12,340 ± 840) is in accord with previous estimates, much lower than the estimate of Arevalo et al. (2009). The low Sm/Nd and 143Nd/144Nd ratio of all morb and N-MORB provide constraints on the hypothesis that Earth has a non-chondritic primitive mantle. Either Earth is chondritic in Sm/Nd and the hypothesis is incorrect or MORB preferentially sample an enriched reservoir, requiring a large depleted reservoir in the deep mantle.