Potassium isotope abundances in Australasian tektites and microtektites

G. F. Herzog, C. M.O.D. Alexander, E. L. Berger, J. S. Delaney, B. P. Glass

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19 Scopus citations


We report electron microprobe determinations of the elemental compositions of 11 Australasian layered tektites and 28 Australasian microtektites; and ion microprobe determinations of the 41K/39K ratios of all 11 tektites and 13 of the microtektites. The elemental compositions agree well with literature values, although the average potassium concentrations measured here for microtektites, 1.1-1.6 wt%, are lower than published average values, 1.9-2.9 wt%. The potassium isotope abundances of the Australasian layered tektites vary little. The average value of δ 41K, 0.02 ± 0.12‰ (1 σ mean), is indistinguishable from the terrestrial value (= 0 by definition) as represented by our standard, thereby confirming four earlier tektite analyses of Humayun and Koeberl (2004). In agreement with those authors, we conclude that evaporation has significantly altered neither the isotopic nor the elemental composition of Australasian layered tektites for elements less volatile than potassium. Although the average 41K/39K ratio of the microtektites, 1.1 ± 1.7‰ (1 σ mean), is also statistically indistinguishable from the value for the standard, the individual ratios vary over a very large range, from -10.6 ± 1.4‰ to +13.8 ± 1.5‰ and at least three of them are significantly different from zero. We interpret these larger variations in terms of the evaporation of isotopically light potassium; condensation of potassium in the vapor plume; partial or complete stirring and quenching of the melts; and the possible uptake of potassium from seawater. That the average 41K/39K ratio of the microtektites equals the terrestrial value suggests that the microtektite-forming system was compositionally closed with respect to potassium and less volatile elements. The possibility remains open that 41K/39K ratios of microtektites vary systematically with location in the strewn field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1641-1657
Number of pages17
JournalMeteoritics and Planetary Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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