Carbonatitic Melts and Their Role in Diamond Formation in the Deep Earth

Carbonatitic high-density fluids and carbonate mineral inclusions in ­lithospheric and sub-lithospheric diamonds reveal comparable compositions to crustal carbonatites and, thus, support the presence of carbonatitic melts to depths of at least the mantle transition zone (~410–660 km depth). Diamonds and high pressure–high temperature (HP–HT) experiments confirm the stability of lower mantle carbonates. Experiments also show that carbonate melts have extremely low viscosity in the upper mantle. Hence, carbonatitic melts may participate in the deep (mantle) carbon cycle and be highly effective metasomatic agents. Deep carbon in the upper mantle can be mobilized by metasomatic carbonatitic melts, which may have become increasingly volumetrically significant since the onset of carbonate subduction (~3 Ga) to the present day.

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Evolution of Carbonatite Magmas in the Upper Mantle and Crust

Carbonatites are the most silica-poor magmas known and are amongst Earth’s most enigmatic igneous rocks. They crystallise to rocks dominated by the carbonate minerals calcite and dolomite. We review models for carbonatite petrogenesis, including direct partial melting of mantle lithologies, exsolution from silica-undersaturated alkali silicate melts, or direct fractionation of carbonated silicate melts to carbonate-rich residual melts. We also briefly discuss carbonatite–mantle wall-rock reactions and other processes at mid- to upper crustal depths, including fenitisation, overprinting by carbohydrothermal fluids, and reaction between carbonatite melt and crustal lithologies.

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Carbonatites: Contrasting, Complex, and Controversial

Carbonatites are unique, enigmatic, and controversial rocks directly sourced from, or evolved from, mantle melts. Mineral proportions and chemical compositions of carbonatites are highly variable and depend on a wide range of processes: melt generation, liquid immiscibility, fractional crystallization, and post-magmatic alteration. Observations of plutonic carbonatites and their surrounding metasomatic rocks (fenites) suggest that carbonatite intrusions and volcanic rocks do not fully represent the true compositions of the parental carbonatite melts and fluids. Carbonatites are enriched in rare elements, such as niobium and rare earths, and may host deposits of these elements. Carbonatites are also important for understanding the carbon cycle and mantle evolution.

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