Earth is differentiated into chemically distinct phases at the planetary to the microscopic scale. The degree of element fractionation between these phases spans a similarly extreme range, leading to element ratios that can vary by many orders of magnitude. The tendency of an element to prefer one phase over another can be described by its partition coefficient, a simple ratio of concentration between two phases. Partition coefficients are not constants, however, and vary as a function of intensive variables such as pressure, temperature, and composition. My research uses high temperature experiments to quantify these variations in partitioning. This information can be used to decode the element distribution measured in natural samples.
I have recently written an introduction to the controls on element partitioning behavior for Elsevier’s Encyclopedia of Geology (2nd Ed.) which can be found here.