The more than 500 fossil Ca-carbonatite occurrences on Earth are at odds with the only active East African Rift carbonatite volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai (Tanzania), which produces Na-carbonatite magmas. The volcano's recent major explosive eruptions yielded a mix of nephelinitic and carbonatite melts, supporting the hypothesis that carbonatites and spatially associated peralkaline silicate lavas are related through liquid immiscibility. Nevertheless, previous eruption temperatures of Na-carbonatites were 490–595 °C, which is 250–450 °C lower than for any suitable conjugate silicate liquid. This study demonstrates experimentally that moderately alkaline Ca-carbonatite melts evolve to Na-carbonatites through crystal fractionation. The thermal barrier of the synthetic Na-Ca-carbonate system, held to preclude an evolution from Ca-carbonatites to Na-carbonatites, vanishes in the natural system, where continuous fractionation of calcite + apatite leads to Na-carbonatites, as observed at Oldoinyo Lengai. Furthermore, saturating the Na-carbonatite with minerals present in possible conjugate nephelinites yields a parent carbonatite with total alkali contents of 8–9 wt%, i.e., concentrations that are realistic for immiscible separation from nephelinitic liquids at 1000–1050 °C. Modeling the liquid line of descent along the calcite surface requires a total fractionation of ∼48% calcite, ∼12% apatite, and ∼2 wt% clinopyroxene. SiO2 solubility only increases from 0.2 to 2.9 wt% at 750–1200 °C, leaving little leeway for crystallization of silicates. The experimental results suggest a moderately alkaline parent to the Oldoinyo Lengai carbonatites and therefore a common origin for carbonatites related to alkaline magmatism.
- Received 17 November 2016.
- Revision received 2 February 2017.
- Accepted 3 February 2017.
- ©The Authors
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