A nucleosynthetic origin for the Earth’s anomalous 142Nd composition

C. Burkhardt, L. E. Borg, G. A. Brennecka, Q. R. Shollenberger, N. Dauphas, T. Kleine

Nature 537, 394–398 (14 September 2016) | doi:10.1038/nature18956


“A long-standing paradigm assumes that the chemical and isotopic compositions of many elements in the bulk silicate Earth are the same as in chondrites1, 2, 3, 4. However, the accessible Earth has a greater 142Nd/144Nd ratio than do chondrites. Because 142Nd is the decay product of the now-extinct 146Sm (which has a half-life of 103 million years5), this 142Nd difference seems to require a higher-than-chondritic Sm/Nd ratio for the accessible Earth. This must have been acquired during global silicate differentiation within the first 30 million years of Solar System formation6 and implies the formation of a complementary 142Nd-depleted reservoir that either is hidden in the deep Earth6, or lost to space by impact erosion3, 7. Whether this complementary reservoir existed, and whether or not it has been lost from Earth, is a matter of debate3, 8, 9, and has implications for determining the bulk composition of Earth, its heat content and structure, as well as for constraining the modes and timescales of its geodynamical evolution3, 7, 9, 10. Here we show that, compared with chondrites, Earth’s precursor bodies were enriched in neodymium that was produced by the slow neutron capture process (s-process) of nucleosynthesis. This s-process excess leads to higher 142Nd/144Nd ratios; after correction for this effect, the 142Nd/144Nd ratios of chondrites and the accessible Earth are indistinguishable within five parts per million. The 142Nd offset between the accessible silicate Earth and chondrites therefore reflects a higher proportion of s-process neodymium in the Earth, and not early differentiation processes. As such, our results obviate the need for hidden-reservoir or super-chondritic Earth models and imply a chondritic Sm/Nd ratio for the bulk Earth. Although chondrites formed at greater heliocentric distances and contain a different mix of presolar components than Earth, they nevertheless are suitable proxies for Earth’s bulk chemical composition.”