K2O-rich trapped melt in olivine in the Nakhla meteorite: Implications for petrogenesis of nakhlites and evolution of the Martian mantle

Cyrena Anne Goodrich, Allan H. Treiman, Justin Filiberto, Juliane Gross, Michael Jercinovic

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28 Scopus citations


We used new analytical and theoretical methods to determine the major and minor element compositions of the primary trapped liquid (PTLs) represented by melt inclusions in olivine and augite in the Martian clinopyroxenite, Nakhla, for comparison with previously proposed compositions for the Nakhla (or nakhlite) parent magma. We particularly focused on obtaining accurate K2O contents, and on testing whether high K2O contents and K2O/Na2O ratios obtained in previous studies of melt inclusions in olivine in Nakhla could have been due to unrepresentative sampling, systematic errors arising from electron microprobe techniques, late alteration of the inclusions, and/or boundary layer effects. Based on analyses of 35 melt inclusions in olivine cores, the PTL in olivine, PTLoliv, contained (by wt) approximately 47% SiO2, 6.3% Al2O3, 9.6% CaO, 1.8% K2O, and 0.9% Na2O, with K2O/Na2O = 2.0. We infer that the high K2O content of PTLoliv is not due to boundary layer effects and represents a real property of the melt from which the host olivine crystallized. This melt was cosaturated with olivine and augite. Its mg# is model-dependent and is constrained only to be ≥19 (equilibrium Fo = 40). Based on analyses of 91 melt inclusions in augite cores, the PTL in augite, PTLaug, contained (by wt) 53-54% SiO2, 7-8% Al2O3, 0.8-1.1% K2O, and 1.1-1.4% Na2O, with K2O/Na2O = 0.7-0.8. This K2O content and K2O/Na2O ratio are significantly higher than inferred in studies of melt inclusions in augite in Nakhla by experimental rehomogenization. PTLaug was saturated only with augite, and in equilibrium with augite cores of mg# 62. PTLaug represents the Nakhla parent magma, and does not evolve to PTLoliv by fractional crystallization. We therefore conclude that olivine cores in Nakhla (and, by extension, other nakhlites) are xenocrystic. We propose that PTLoliv and PTLaug were generated from the same source region. PTLoliv was generated first and emplaced to form olivine-rich cumulate rocks. Shortly thereafter, PTLaug was generated and ascended through these olivine-rich cumulates, incorporating fragments of wallrock that became the xenocrystic olivine cores in Nakhla. The Nakhla (nakhlite) mantle source region was pyroxenitic with some olivine, and could have become enriched in K relative to Na via metasomatism. A high degree of melting of this source produced the silica-poor, alkali-rich magma PTLoliv. Further ascension and decompression of the source led to generation of the silica-rich, relatively alkali-poor magma PTLaug. Potassium-rich magmas like those involved in the formation of the nakhlites represent an important part of the diversity of Martian igneous rocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2371-2405
Number of pages35
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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