The MOSDEF survey: Direct-method metallicities and ISM conditions at z ∼ 1.5-3.5

Ryan L. Sanders, Alice E. Shapley, Naveen A. Reddy, Mariska Kriek, Brian Siana, Alison L. Coil, Bahram Mobasher, Irene Shivaei, William R. Freeman, Mojegan Azadi, Sedona H. Price, Gene Leung, Tara Fetherolf, Laura de Groot, Tom Zick, Francesca M. Fornasini, Guillermo Barro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


We present detections of [O III] λ4363 and direct-method metallicities for star-forming galaxies at z = 1.7-3.6. We combine new measurements from the MOSFIRE Deep Evolution Field (MOSDEF) survey with literature sources to construct a sample of 18 galaxies with direct-method metallicities at z > 1, spanning 7.5 < 12+log(O/H) < 8.2 and log(M/M☉) = 7-10. We find that strong-line calibrations based on local analogues of high-redshift galaxies reliably reproduce the metallicity of the z > 1 sample on average. We construct the first mass-metallicity relation at z > 1 based purely on direct-method O/H, finding a slope that is consistent with strong-line results. Direct-method O/H evolves by ≲0.1 dex at fixed M and star formation rate from z ∼ 0 to 2.2. We employ photoionization models to constrain the ionization parameter and ionizing spectrum in the high-redshift sample. Stellar models with supersolar O/Fe and binary evolution of massive stars are required to reproduce the observed strong-line ratios. We find that the z > 1 sample falls on the z ∼ 0 relation between ionization parameter and O/H, suggesting no evolution of this relation from z ∼ 0 to z ∼ 2. These results suggest that the offset of the strong-line ratios of this sample from local excitation sequences is driven primarily by a harder ionizing spectrum at fixed nebular metallicity compared to what is typical at z ∼ 0, naturally explained by supersolar O/Fe at high redshift caused by rapid formation time-scales. Given the extreme nature of our z > 1 sample, the implications for representative z ∼ 2 galaxy samples at ∼1010 M☉ are unclear, but similarities to z > 6 galaxies suggest that these conclusions can be extended to galaxies in the epoch of reionization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1427-1455
Number of pages29
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Based on data obtained at the W.M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and NASA, and was made possible by the generous financial support of the W.M. Keck Foundation. We acknowledge support from NSF AAG grants AST-1312780, 1312547, 1312764, and 1313171, archival grant AR-13907 provided by NASA through the Space Telescope Science Institute, and grant NNX16AF54G from the NASA ADAP program. We also acknowledge a NASA contract supporting the ‘WFIRST Extragalactic Potential Observations (EXPO) Science Investigation Team’ (15-WFIRST15-0004), administered by GSFC. We additionally acknowledge the 3D-HST collaboration for providing spectroscopic and photometric catalogues used in the MOSDEF survey. We wish to extend special thanks to those of Hawaiian ancestry on whose sacred mountain we are privileged to be guests. Without their generous hospitality, the work presented herein would not have been possible.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s)


  • Galaxies: abundances
  • Galaxies: high-redshift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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