Nephelinites, a highly alkaline volcanic rock type, have widely been thought to be formed in a shallow lithosphere previously impregnated with phlogopite and/or amphibole.
Here we argue that nephelinites start meltingat much greater depths than previously thought. Taking four Cenozoic nephelinitic volcanoes in eastern China asspecific examples, we show that nephelinites have exceptionally low K/U and Ba/Th ratios, similar to most nephelinites worldwide, but their Nd-Sr-Hf isotopic compositions are inconsistent with a local lithospheric origin. They also have low, marine‑carbonate-like δ26Mg. We explain these features by partial melting of recycled, carbonate-bearing sediments in the mantle transition zone (MTZ; 410–660 km), where the high-pressure mineral liebermannite (KAlSi3O8, previously known as K-hollandite) is stable as a residual phase, preferentially retaining K, Ba, Rb and Pb relative to Th, U and light REE, thus releasing liquids with the characteristictrace-element patterns. Group-I kimberlites and oceanic HIMU basalts globally share the same peculiar geochemical anomalies characterizing the nephelinites, suggesting they may all have their roots in the MTZ. The nephelinites show correlations for Mg-Sr isotopes, 143Nd/144Nd-MgO, and δ26Mg-Ba/Th ratios, suggesting binary mixing between melts. We therefore invoke a two-stage process to generate these nephelinites. In the first stage, an initial carbonated silicate melt is formed by melting of carbonate-bearing sediments in the MTZ.Subsequently, during the ascent, the initial melt reacts with the surrounding peridotite, thereby generating areacted melt, which ultimately mixes with the initial, unreacted carbonated silicate melt.
Accordingly, Cenozoic nephelinites in eastern China can be regarded as evolved melts from the MTZ.
Fig: Cartoon illustrating the genesis of nephelinites