Mantle helium in the Red Sea brines

Lupton, JE, Weiss RF, Craig H.  1977.  Mantle helium in the Red Sea brines. Nature. 266:244-246.


HELIUM isotope studies on terrestrial samples have revealed the existence of two helium components which are clearly distinct from atmospheric helium. The first of these, which we term ‘crustal helium’, was identified in 1946 in natural gas wells1. This crustal component is produced by radioactive decay of U and Th to 4He, with 3He production by (n, α) reactions on Li; the resulting helium is characterised by 3He/4He ≃ 10−7, one-tenth of the atmospheric ratio2. The second component, ‘mantle helium’, was discovered as ‘excess 3He’ in deep ocean water, attributed to a flux of primordial helium from the mantle3. Studies of the 3He/4He ratio in deep water on the East Pacific Rise4 and in helium trapped in submarine basalt glasses5,6 have shown that this mantle component is characterised by 3He/4He ≃ 10−5, about 10 times the atmospheric ratio and 100 times the ratio in crustal helium. Basalt glasses from the Western Pacific Lau Basin, the East Pacific Rise, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge contain trapped helium with similar 3He/4He ratios, indicating that mantle helium in at least three areas in which new lithosphere is being formed has a unique and uniform isotopic signature.