Ocean-island basalts (OIBs) provide a unique insight into the extent of lithological heterogeneity (peridotite vs. pyroxenite) in Earth’s convecting mantle. However, crustal processing of these mantle melts significantly influences minor-element concentrations in olivine phenocrysts, challenging the suitability of this widely used approach to identify lithological variations in their mantle source. Using a numerical model of magma recharge, mixing, and diffusional reequilibration, we show that this type of crustal processing—which is widely observed in OIBs—results in elevated Ni and lower Ca contents of forsterite-rich olivine, causing erroneously high estimates of the proportion of pyroxenite-derived melt. We applied our model of magma recharge and mixing to several OIBs, including the Galápagos Islands, Canary Islands, and La Réunion. In particular, we critically examined olivine compositional variations in basalts from the eastern Galápagos, which display Sr- and Pb-isotope ratios similar to normal mid-ocean-ridge basalts. While previous interpretations (based on olivine chemistry) argued for a significant contribution from pyroxenite-derived melt, our results indicate that the postulated presence of pyroxenite in the eastern Galápagos mantle is an artifact of processing of magmas and their olivine cargo as they transition through the crust, consistent with major-element and isotopic evidence for a dominantly peridotitic source in this region. This new model for magma recharge and mixing may have important implications for our understanding of lithological heterogeneity beneath OIBs globally, and it highlights the importance of considering crustal processes when attempting to interpret olivine compositions with regard to mantle heterogeneity.

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