Remobilization of crustal carbon may dominate volcanic arc emissions

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The flux of carbon into and out of Earth’s surface environment has implications for Earth’s climate and habitability. We compiled a global data set for carbon and helium isotopes from volcanic arcs and demonstrated that the carbon isotope composition of mean global volcanic gas is considerably heavier, at –3.8 to –4.6 per mil (‰), than the canonical mid-ocean ridge basalt value of –6.0‰. The largest volcanic emitters outgas carbon with higher δ13C and are located in mature continental arcs that have accreted carbonate platforms, indicating that reworking of crustal limestone is an important source of volcanic carbon. The fractional burial of organic carbon is lower than traditionally determined from a global carbon isotope mass balance and may have varied over geological time, modulated by supercontinent formation and breakup.

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