Concept: Structure of the Earth
The Earth’s engine is driven by unknown proportions of primordial energy and heat produced in radioactive decay. Unfortunately, competing models of Earth’s composition reveal an order of magnitude uncertainty in the amount of radiogenic power driving mantle dynamics. Recent measurements of the Earth’s flux of geoneutrinos, electron antineutrinos from terrestrial natural radioactivity, reveal the amount of uranium and thorium in the Earth and set limits on the residual proportion of primordial energy. Comparison of the flux measured at large underground neutrino experiments with geologically informed predictions of geoneutrino emission from the crust provide the critical test needed to define the mantle’s radiogenic power. Measurement at an oceanic location, distant from nuclear reactors and continental crust, would best reveal the mantle flux, however, no such experiment is anticipated. We predict the geoneutrino flux at the site of the Jinping Neutrino Experiment (Sichuan, China). Within 8 years, the combination of existing data and measurements from soon to come experiments, including Jinping, will exclude end-member models at the 1σ level, define the mantle’s radiogenic contribution to the surface heat loss, set limits on the composition of the silicate Earth, and provide significant parameter bounds for models defining the mode of mantle convection.
The hydrogen-isotope [deuterium/hydrogen (D/H)] ratio of Earth can be used to constrain the origin of its water. However, the most accessible reservoir, Earth’s oceans, may no longer represent the original (primordial) D/H ratio, owing to changes caused by water cycling between the surface and the interior. Thus, a reservoir completely isolated from surface processes is required to define Earth’s original D/H signature. Here we present data for Baffin Island and Icelandic lavas, which suggest that the deep mantle has a low D/H ratio (δD more negative than -218 per mil). Such strongly negative values indicate the existence of a component within Earth’s interior that inherited its D/H ratio directly from the protosolar nebula.
The physical and chemical properties of Earth’s mantle, as well as its dynamics and evolution, heavily depend on the phase composition of the region. On the basis of experiments in laser-heated diamond anvil cells, we demonstrate that Fe,Al-bearing bridgmanite (magnesium silicate perovskite) is stable to pressures over 120 GPa and temperatures above 3000 K. Ferric iron stabilizes Fe-rich bridgmanite such that we were able to synthesize pure iron bridgmanite at pressures between ~45 and 110 GPa. The compressibility of ferric iron-bearing bridgmanite is significantly different from any known bridgmanite, which has direct implications for the interpretation of seismic tomography data.
Earth’s core is structured in a solid inner core, mainly composed of iron, and a liquid outer core. The temperature at the inner core boundary is expected to be close to the melting point of iron at 330 gigapascal (GPa). Despite intensive experimental and theoretical efforts, there is little consensus on the melting behavior of iron at these extreme pressures and temperatures. We present static laser-heated diamond anvil cell experiments up to 200 GPa using synchrotron-based fast x-ray diffraction as a primary melting diagnostic. When extrapolating to higher pressures, we conclude that the melting temperature of iron at the inner core boundary is 6230 ± 500 kelvin. This estimation favors a high heat flux at the core-mantle boundary with a possible partial melting of the mantle.
The tidal flow of electrically conductive oceans through the geomagnetic field results in the generation of secondary magnetic signals, which provide information on the subsurface structure. Data from the new generation of satellites were shown to contain magnetic signals due to tidal flow; however, there are no reports that these signals have been used to infer subsurface structure. We use satellite-detected tidal magnetic fields to image the global electrical structure of the oceanic lithosphere and upper mantle down to a depth of about 250 km. The model derived from more than 12 years of satellite data reveals a ≈72-km-thick upper resistive layer followed by a sharp increase in electrical conductivity likely associated with the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary, which separates colder rigid oceanic plates from the ductile and hotter asthenosphere.
The determination of the crustal structure is essential in geophysics, as it gives insight into the geohistory, tectonic environment, geohazard mitigation, etc. Here we present the latest advance on three-dimensional modeling representing the Tibetan Mohorovičić discontinuity (topography and ranges) and its deformation (fold), revealed by analyzing gravity data from GOCE mission. Our study shows noticeable advances in estimated Tibetan Moho model which is superior to the results using the earlier gravity models prior to GOCE. The higher quality gravity field of GOCE is reflected in the Moho solution: we find that the Moho is deeper than 65 km, which is twice the normal continental crust beneath most of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, while the deepest Moho, up to 82 km, is located in western Tibet. The amplitude of the Moho fold is estimated to be ranging from -9 km to 9 km with a standard deviation of ~2 km. The improved GOCE gravity derived Moho signals reveal a clear directionality of the Moho ranges and Moho fold structure, orthogonal to deformation rates observed by GPS. This geophysical feature, clearly more evident than the ones estimated using earlier gravity models, reveals that it is the result of the large compressional tectonic process.
Recent global expansion of seismic data motivated a number of seismological studies of the Earth’s inner core that proposed the existence of increasingly complex structure and anisotropy. In the meantime, new hypotheses of dynamic mechanisms have been put forward to interpret seismological results. Here, the nature of hemispherical dichotomy and anisotropy is re-investigated by bridging the observations of PKP(bc-df) differential travel-times with the iron bcc/hcp elastic properties computed from first-principles methods.The Candy Wrapper velocity model introduced here accounts for a dynamic picture of the inner core (i.e., the eastward drift of material), where different iron crystal shapes can be stabilized at the two hemispheres. We show that seismological data are best explained by a rather complicated, mosaic-like, structure of the inner core, where well-separated patches of different iron crystals compose the anisotropic western hemispherical region, and a conglomerate of almost indistinguishable iron phases builds-up the weakly anisotropic eastern side.
Ambient seismic noise correlations are widely used for high-resolution surface-wave imaging of Earth’s lithosphere. Similar observations of the seismic body waves that propagate through the interior of Earth would provide a window into the deep Earth. We report the observation of the mantle transition zone through noise correlations of P waves as they are reflected by the discontinuities associated with the top [410 kliometers (km)] and the bottom (660 km) of this zone. Our data demonstrate that high-resolution mapping of the mantle transition zone is possible without using earthquake sources.
Long-standing debates exist over the timing and mechanism of uplift of the Tibetan Plateau and, more specifically, over the connection between lithospheric evolution and surface expressions of plateau uplift and volcanism. Here we show a T-shaped high wave speed structure in our new tomographic model beneath South-Central Tibet, interpreted as an upper-mantle remnant from earlier lithospheric foundering. Its spatial correlation with ultrapotassic and adakitic magmatism supports the hypothesis of convective removal of thickened Tibetan lithosphere causing major uplift of Southern Tibet during the Oligocene. Lithospheric foundering induces an asthenospheric drag force, which drives continued underthrusting of the Indian continental lithosphere and shortening and thickening of the Northern Tibetan lithosphere. Surface uplift of Northern Tibet is subject to more recent asthenospheric upwelling and thermal erosion of thickened lithosphere, which is spatially consistent with recent potassic volcanism and an imaged narrow low wave speed zone in the uppermost mantle.
Laboratory experiments and seismology data have created a clear theoretical picture of the most abundant minerals that comprise the deeper parts of the Earth’s mantle. Discoveries of some of these minerals in ‘super-deep’ diamonds-formed between two hundred and about one thousand kilometres into the lower mantle-have confirmed part of this picture. A notable exception is the high-pressure perovskite-structured polymorph of calcium silicate (CaSiO3). This mineral-expected to be the fourth most abundant in the Earth-has not previously been found in nature. Being the dominant host for calcium and, owing to its accommodating crystal structure, the major sink for heat-producing elements (potassium, uranium and thorium) in the transition zone and lower mantle, it is critical to establish its presence. Here we report the discovery of the perovskite-structured polymorph of CaSiO3in a diamond from South African Cullinan kimberlite. The mineral is intergrown with about six per cent calcium titanate (CaTiO3). The titanium-rich composition of this inclusion indicates a bulk composition consistent with derivation from basaltic oceanic crust subducted to pressures equivalent to those present at the depths of the uppermost lower mantle. The relatively ‘heavy’ carbon isotopic composition of the surrounding diamond, together with the pristine high-pressure CaSiO3structure, provides evidence for the recycling of oceanic crust and surficial carbon to lower-mantle depths.