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Abstract

Stable-isotope geochemistry has made important contributions to the widely acknowledged “renaissance” in the earth sciences for more than three decades. This status may be ascribed both to theoretical and practical considerations. First, the isotopic species of an element may be fractionated (partitioned unequally) between two or more coexisting phases because of mass-dependent differences in their chemical and physical behaviors, and the amount of such fractionation normally varies inversely with temperature and independently of pressure. Accordingly, the isotopic abundances of an element may serve to define the mechanisms of formation, thermal environment, and provenance of rocks, minerals, and fluids. Second, the analytical procedures now available render most geologic materials well suited for routine and rapid isotopic measurements. Some important milestones of the 1930's and 1940's leading to our present understanding include the discovery of deuterium and formulation of the theoretical basis for stable-isotope fractionation by Harold C. Urey and colleagues at the University of Chicago and the development of improved mass spectrometers by Alfred O. Nier at the University of Minnesota. The subsequent construction of laboratory facilities elsewhere was commonly directed by graduates and associates of these pioneers and their respective institutions.

As of today, the literature relevant to stableisotope geochemistry is voluminous and far beyond the scope of this topical overview. Most investigations, apart from those concerned with theory or laboratory experimentation, have been focused on one or more of the following objectives: (1) the conditions and mechanisms of rock or mineral formation; (2) the sources of magma, sediment

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