Phengite is a critical carrier of water and potassium (K) in sediment as well as in the basaltic layers of subducted slabs. However, although phengite dehydration can potentially be used to interpret high conductivity in the mantle overlying such slabs at depths between 250 km and 300 km, no experimental constraints on the electrical conductivity of this mineral have so far been performed. We investigated the electrical conductivity of natural phengite before and after dehydration at pressures (P) as high as 12 GPa and at temperatures (T) as high as 1200 K. The results of this study confirm positive T and negative P effects on the electrical conductivity of phengite before its breakdown; subsequently, at 12 GPa and 850 K, electrical conductivity dramatically increased from 10−4 S/m to 100.5 S/m. Characteristic impedance spectra, as well as postexperimental textural observations and sample chemical analyses, show that these abrupt conductivity changes are due to K-rich fluids released by phengite dehydration. These high conductivities of K-rich fluids are in close agreement with geophysical observations at depths of between 250 km and 300 km in backarcs beneath the North Philippine Sea and central Argentina. Comparisons between the geotherms of these areas and the stability field of phengite defined by phase equilibrium experiments suggest that the descending crust is almost completely dehydrated and should not cause further K-metasomatism subsequent to the breakdown of phengite at depths of ∼300 km.

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