In the study of geochemical mass balances at subduction zones, the composition of the mantle wedge prior to additions from the slab is a critically important yet poorly constrained parameter. Deconvolving the influence of ancient versus modern enrichments is particularly difficult, especially when considering elements that are highly mobile. Here we provide an alternative approach, using less mobile elements, and a filter to remove the effects of recent slab additions. We provide new Hf isotope data for 30 Mariana Trough (MT) backarc basin lavas. Once filtered, Hf and Nd isotope ratios are highly correlated, of Indian mid-oceanic ridge basalt character, and display variations similar to ocean ridges of comparable lengths. The isotopic variability observed in this “ambient mantle” provides a new paradigm for the interpretation of the varied volcanic products of the arc. Thus, shoshonites associated with the northern termination of the backarc basin rift axis reflect the interaction of a subducted sediment melt with an isotopically enriched mantle source. In contrast, the large volcanoes of the Central Island province have a consistent offset in Nd isotope compositions from the MT array resulting from fluid addition. Existing data for smaller edifices in the submarine portion of the arc have larger variations resulting from fluid addition on a more local scale. We suggest that the similar characterization of ambient mantle elsewhere may help to resolve many conflicting geochemical observations in arc lavas worldwide.

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