Large-scale heterogeneities in the mantle are investigated through trace elements measured in oceanic basalts from different locations in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The study relies upon the physico-chemical properties of the elements and their classification according to their partition coefficients. High partition coefficient elements (Co, Ni, Cr) have concentrations in peridotite that are not sensitive to solid-liquid equilibrium (partial melting); the mantle should therefore be homogeneous with respect to these elements. The ratios of elements that have equal or very similar low partition coefficients (Y/Tb, Zr/Hf and Nb/Ta) are constant in all samples studied, despite their large concentration range. These ratios are equal to chondritic ratios and favour a chondritic nature for the primordial mantle. The La/Ta ratio shows two values, either 9 or 18, which are closely related to topography (9 for topographic highs). When the difference between partition coefficients of two hygromagmaphilic elements increases, the local variations observed for their ratio can be interpreted either as local heterogeneities of mantle sources or as the effect of magmatic processes (e.g. partial melting).