Preservation of systematic Ni and Cr heterogeneity in otherwise homogeneous mantle olivine: Implications for timescales of post-metasomatism re-equilibration
The flux of elements into Earth’s sub-continental lithospheric mantle is facilitated by the passage of small-fraction melts that either crystallise new phases or react with pre-existing minerals. Metasomatised peridotite records the end product of this exchange but rarely captures the process in the act due to subsolidus re-equilibration. We present the results of a systematic investigation of a metasomatic melt channel preserved in a mantle peridotite from the Late Cretaceous Bultfontein kimberlite (Kaapvaal craton) that shows rare direct evidence of the melt-rock reaction processes. We show that the metasomatic proto-kimberlite melt underwent variable crystallisation of clinopyroxene, sulfides, phlogopite, spinel and zircon together with interaction and diffusive exchange with the surrounding olivine-rich mantle.
Element profiles across large olivine porphyroclasts (Fo88) show significant core-to-rim variations in Ni (NiO = 0.18-0.32 wt.%) and Cr (Cr = 35-60 ppm), while concentrations of all other elements (e.g. Mg, Fe, Mn, Co, V) are remarkably homogeneous. Electron backscatter diffraction analysis shows that the disequilibrium of Ni and Cr is greatest where the crystal contains large components of the  and  axes. The disequilibrium is preserved in certain orientations because diffusion of Ni and Cr in olivine is more anisotropic than Fe-Mg and Mn, and slower in the  and  directions. We present the first observations of Ni and Cr decoupling from other elements in mantle olivine and suggest that this is a consequence of: (i) changing mineral-melt concentration gradients associated with the reactive percolation of a precursory kimberlite melt; and (ii) late-stage sulfide and spinel precipitation. We use the diffusion limited re-equilibration of Ni in olivine to quantify the timing of metasomatism prior to xenolith entrainment by the host kimberlite. Our modelling indicates that reactive percolation occurred on the order of 103-105 years prior to entrainment; this provides an additional line of support for the hypothesis that a period of metasomatism by proto-kimberlite melts precedes the final kimberlite ascent to the surface. The broader implication of our finding of variable rates of minor element diffusion in natural olivine is that it highlights the importance of anisotropy and the impact of changing local concentration gradients during subsolidus re-equilibration.