Subduction zones represent major sites of chemical fractionation within the Earth. Element pairs which behave coherently during normal mantle melting may become strongly decoupled from one another during the slab dehydration processes and during hydrous melting conditions in the slab and in the mantle wedge. This results in the large ion lithophile elements (e.g. K, Rb, Th, U, Ba) and the light rare earth elements being transferred from the slab to the mantle wedge, and being concentrated within the mantle wedge by hydrous fluids, stabilized in hydrous phases such as hornblende, and phlogopite, from where they are eventually extracted as magmas and contribute to growth of the continental crust. High-field strength elements (e.g. Nb, Ta, Ti, P, Zr) are insoluble in hydrous fluids and relatively insoluble in hydrous melts, and remain in the subducted slab and the adjacent parts of the mantle which are dragged down and contribute to the source for ocean island basalts. The required element fractionations result from interaction between specific mineral phases (hornblende, phlogopite, rutile, sphene, etc.) and hydrous fluids. In present day subduction magmatism the mantle wedge contributes dominantly to the chemical budget, and there is a requirement for significant convection to maintain the element flux. In the Precambrain, melting of subducted ocean crust may have been easier, providing an enhanced slab contribution to continental growth.