Changes in the oxygen fugacity (fO2) of the Earth’s mantle have been proposed to control the spatial and temporal distribution of arc-related ore deposits, and possibly reflect the evolution of the atmosphere over billions of years. Thermodynamic calculations and natural evidence indicate that fluids released from subducting slabs can oxidise the mantle, but whether their oxidation potential varied in space and time remains controversial. Here, we use garnet peridotites from western Norway to show that there is a linear decrease in maximum fO2 with increasing depth in the mantle wedge. We ascribe this relation to changes in the speciation of sulfur released in slab fluids, with sulfate, controlling maximum oxidation, preferentially released at shallow depths. Even though the amount of sulfate in the Precambrian oceans, and thus in subducted lithologies, is thought to have been dramatically lower than during the Phanerozoic, garnet peridotites metasomatised during these two periods have a comparable fO2 range. This opens to the possibility that an oxidised mantle with fO2 similar to modern-day values has existed since the Proterozoic and possibly earlier. Consequently, early magmas derived from partial melting of metasomatised mantle may have had suitable fO2 to generate porphyry Cu-Au and iron-oxide Cu-Au deposits.
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