Baffin Island rocks which are the earliest expression of the mantle hotspot now feeding volcanic eruptions on Iceland
because previous study of helium isotopes in these rocks showed them to have anomalously high ratios of helium-3 to helium-4. Helium-3 is generally extremely rare within the Earth; most of the mantle’s supply has been outgassed by volcanic eruptions and lost to space over the planet’s long geological history.
The high proportion of helium-3 suggests that the Baffin Island lavas came from a reservoir in the mantle that had never previously outgassed its original helium-3, implying that it had not been subjected to the extensive chemical differentiation experienced by most of the mantle.
The researchers confirmed this conclusion by analyzing the lead isotopes in the lava samples, which date the reservoir to between 4.55 and 4.45 billion years old. This age is only slightly younger than the Earth itself. The early age of the mantle reservoir implies that it existed before melting of the mantle began to create the magmas that rose to form Earth’s crust and before plate tectonics allowed that crust to be mixed back into the mantle.
“In our model, the original crust that formed by the solidification of the magma ocean was buoyantly unstable at Earth’s surface because it was rich in iron,” he says. “This instability caused it to sink to the base of the mantle, taking the incompatible elements with it, where it remains today.”