Highly reduced accretion of the Earth by large impactors? Evidence from elemental partitioning between sulfide liquids and silicate melts at highly reduced conditions

E. S. Steenstra*, E. Kelderman, J. Berndt, S. Klemme, E. S. Bullock, W. van Westrenen

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Earth may have formed at very reducing conditions through the accretion of (a) large reduced and differentiated impactor(s). Segregation of Fe-S liquids within these bodies would have left a geochemical mark on the mantles of reduced impactors and on the proto-Earth's mantle. Here, we study the geochemical consequences of highly reduced accretion of the Earth by large impactors. New insights into the partitioning of trace elements between Fe-S liquid and silicate melt at (highly) reduced conditions (ΔIW = −5 to +1) were obtained by performing 21 high pressure experiments at 1 GPa and 1683–2283 K. The observed Fe-S liquid-silicate melt partitioning behavior is in agreement with thermodynamic models that predict a significant role for O in Fe-S liquid and S in the silicate melt. The experimental results were combined with literature data to obtain new and/or revised thermodynamic parameterizations that quantify the effects of composition and redox state on the elemental distribution between Fe-S liquids and highly reduced silicate melts. The results were used to assess which elements would most likely retain the geochemical signature of accretion of reduced impactors. Under the assumption of instantaneous core merging, impact delivery to the proto-Earth's mantle was found to be significant (>10% of present-day BSE concentrations) only for S, Zn, Se, Te and Tl, whereas the abundances of the other elements remain largely unaffected. The results also show that present-day BSE S/Se, Se/Te, Tl/S and potentially In/Zn as well as their absolute abundances are inconsistent with their delivery by (a) large, highly reduced chondritic differentiated impactor(s) during terrestrial accretion. Continued core-mantle equilibration in the proto-Earth, volatility-related loss and/or post-accretion sulfide liquid segregation in the terrestrial magma ocean would further increase or not affect these discrepancies. We conclude that a significant contribution of (a) large (>10% of Earth's mass) reduced and differentiated chondritic impactor(s) during accretion of the Earth is not reflected in the present-day S, Zn, Se, Te and Tl systematics of the terrestrial mantle. This suggests that significant overprinting of the primordial BSE S/Se, Se/Te and S/Tl signature could have occurred and/or (2) that the S/Se and Se/Te ratios were set by accretion of more oxidised CI-like materials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-268
Number of pages21
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Early online date11 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


Most of the experiments presented in this study were performed by E.K. as part of an undergraduate research project at Amsterdam, supervised by E.S.S. and W.v.W. This work was supported by a Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellowship to E.S.S., by a Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (N.W.O.) Vici award to W.v.W. and by DFG SFB TRR-170 (Publication no. 104). We like to thank M. Norman for useful comments and editorial handling. Finally, we would like to thank J. Labidi and two anonymous reviewers for their comments that significantly improved the quality of the manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft104, SFB TRR-170
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek


    • Accretion
    • Chalcophile
    • Core formation
    • Earth
    • Siderophile


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