Mid-ocean ridge basalt (hereafter, MORB) is a final product of melt generated from the partial melting of mantle peridotite, following reaction with mantle and/or lower crustral rocks, fractionation at a shallower crust and other processes en route to seafloor. Therefore, it is difficult to estimate melting processes at the upper mantle solely from any investigations of MORB. In contrast to the restricted occurrence of peridotite of mantle origin in particular tectonic settings (e.g., ophiolites, fracture zones, or oceanic core complexes), the ubiquitous presence of MORB provides us with a key to understanding global geochemical variations of the Earth's interior in relation to plate tectonics.
In fact, MORB has been considered to show a homogeneous chemical composition. In terms of volcanic rocks from other tectonic settings (e.g., island arc, continental crust, ocean island), this simple concept seems to be true. However, recent investigations reveal that even MORB has significant chemical variations that seem to correspond to location (Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans). These observations suggest that the mantle beneath each ocean has a distinct chemical composition and an internally heterogeneous composition.
In this paper, global geochemical variations of MORB in terms of major and trace element compositions and isotope ratios are examined using a recently compiled database. The compilation suggests that MORB has heterogeneous compositions, which seem to originate from a mixture of depleted mantle and some enriched materials. Coupled with trace element compositions and Pb-isotope ratios, there seems to be at least two geochemical and isotopic domain of the upper most mantle: equatorial Atlantic-Pacific Oceans and southern Atlantic-Indian Ocean. Material (melt and/or solid) derived from plume, subducted slab, subcontinental crust, or fluid added beneath an ancient subduction zone is a candidate to explain the enrichment end-member to produce heterogeneous MORB.
Because MORB is heterogeneous, using a tectonic discrimination diagram that implicitly subsumes homogeneous MORB or its mantle sources should be reconsidered. Further investigations, particularly of off-axis MORB, are needed to understand the relationship between heterogeneous compositions of MORB and geophysical parameters (e.g., degree of melting, temperature, spreading rate, crustal thickness, etc). In addition, the role of the MOHO transitional zone should be investigated to interpret the chemical characteristics of MORB.