A trace element is a chemical element whose concentration (or other measure of amount) is very low (a "trace amount"). The exact definition depends on the field of science:
- In analytical chemistry, a trace element is one whose average concentration is less than 100 parts per million (ppm) measured in atomic count or less than 100 micrograms per gram.
- In biochemistry, a trace element is a dietary element that is needed in very minute quantities for the proper growth, development, and physiology of the organism. For example, magnesium is a trace metal. Some examples of trace elements within the human body are: Bromine, Cobalt, Copper, Florine, Iodine, Iron, Manganese and Zinc.
- In geochemistry, a trace element is one whose concentration is less than 1000 ppm or 0.1% of a rock's composition. The term is used mainly in igneous petrology. Trace elements will be either compatible with a liquid or solid phase. If compatible with a mineral, it will be incorporated into a solid phase (e.g., nickel's compatibility with olivine). If it is incompatible with any existing mineral phase it will remain in the liquid magma phase. The measurement of this ratio is known as the partition coefficient. Trace elements can be substituted for network-forming ions in mineral structures. Trace elements that are not essential to a mineral's defined composition will not appear in the chemical formula of that mineral.