Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Volcanology Editors' Highlights

Extremely High Carbon Return in Certain Volcanic Arcs

By comparing measured volcanic output with subducted carbon fluxes from drill cores, the Lesser Antilles subduction zone shows nearly complete slab carbon release at sub-arc depths.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters


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The efficiency of carbon recycling at volcanic arcs assesses the degree to which subducted carbon in sediment and altered oceanic crust escapes into the forearc region, is degassed in arc volcanism, or gets subducted deeper into the Earth’s mantle. By examining the carbon recycling efficiency of arcs at individual subduction zones, a more accurate model of global carbon recycling will become possible.

Previous estimates for the release of subducted carbon along various volcanic arc systems range considerably, from very little (under 25%) to amounts that are greater than the expected sedimentary carbon being subducted. A critical gap in our understanding of carbon recycling efficiency at arcs comes from poor constraints on the amount of carbon in altered oceanic crust below the sedimentary carbon.

Li et al. [2020] used two drill cores off the Lesser Antilles trench to constrain the average carbon isotope values and total carbon concentrations in the subducted slab, finding roughly 1.28 x 1010 mol C/yr with an average δ13C = -2.7 per mil. Using instrument data to constrain a model of volcanic arc degassing, it was found that the release of carbon along the Central to Northern Lesser-Antilles arc is essentially the same, implying 100% carbon recycling efficiency.

The extremely high loss of carbon at sub-arc depths implies very little carbon is being lost to the forearc or being subducted deeper into the mantle. This study highlights the importance of evaluating individual subduction zones to improve global models of the deep carbon cycle.

Citation: Li, K., Li, L., Aubaud, C., & Muehlenbachs, K. [2020]. Efficient carbon recycling at the Central‐Northern Lesser Antilles arc: Implications to deep carbon recycling in global subduction zones. Geophysical Research Letters, 47, e2020GL086950. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020GL086950

—Steven D. Jacobsen, Editor, Geophysical Research Letters

Text © 2020. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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