Carbonatites are unusual, carbon-rich magmas thought to form either by the melting of a carbon-rich mantle source or by low-degree partial melting of a carbon-poor (<80 ppm C) mantle followed by protracted differentiation and/or immiscibility. Carbonate-bearing mantle xenoliths from Oldoinyo Lengai (East African Rift), the only active volcano erupting carbonatites, have provided key support for a C-rich mantle source. Here, we report unique microscale O and C isotopic analyses of those carbonates, which are present as interstitial grains in the silicate host lava, veins in the xenoliths, and pseudo-inclusions in olivine xenoliths. The δ18O values vary little, from 19‰ to 29‰, whereas δ13C values are more variable, ranging from –23‰ to +0.5‰. We show that such carbonate δ18O values result from the low-temperature precipitation of carbonate in equilibrium with meteoric water, rather than under mantle conditions. In this framework, the observed δ13C values can be reproduced by Rayleigh distillation driven by carbonate precipitation and associated degassing. Together with petrological evidence of a physical connection between the three types of carbonates, our isotopic data support the pedogenic formation of carbonates in the studied xenoliths by soil-water percolation and protracted crystallization along xenolith cracks. Our results refute a mechanism of C enrichment in the form of mantle carbonates in the mantle beneath the Natron Lake magmatic province and instead support carbonatite formation by low-degree partial melting of a C-poor mantle and subsequent protracted differentiation of alkaline magmas.

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