Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mysterious deep-Earth seismic signature explained

27.11.2017

Finding has implications for conditions that set the stage for life

New research on oxygen and iron chemistry under the extreme conditions found deep inside the Earth could explain a longstanding seismic mystery called ultralow velocity zones. Published in Nature, the findings could have far-reaching implications on our understanding of Earth's geologic history, including life-altering events such as the Great Oxygenation Event, which occurred 2.4 billion years ago.


The movement of seismic waves through the material of the mantle allows scientists to image Earth's interior, just as a medical ultrasound allows technicians to look inside a blood vessel. Image is courtesy of Edward Garnero and Allen McNamara's 2008 Science paper Structure and Dynamics of Earth's Lower Mantle, provided with Garnero's permission.

Credit: Edward Garnero and Allen McNamara

Sitting at the boundary between the lower mantle and the core, 1,800 miles beneath Earth's surface, ultralow velocity zones (UVZ) are known to scientists because of their unusual seismic signatures.

Although this region is far too deep for researchers to ever observe directly, instruments that can measure the propagation of seismic waves caused by earthquakes allow them to visualize changes in Earth's interior structure; similar to how ultrasound measurements let medical professionals look inside of our bodies.

These seismic measurements enabled scientists to visualize these ultralow velocity zones in some regions along the core-mantle boundary, by observing the slowing down of seismic waves passing through them. But knowing UVZs exist didn't explain what caused them.

However, recent findings about iron and oxygen chemistry under deep-Earth conditions provide an answer to this longstanding mystery.

It turns out that water contained in some minerals that get pulled down into the Earth due to plate tectonic activity could, under extreme pressures and temperatures, split up--liberating hydrogen and enabling the residual oxygen to combine with iron metal from the core to create a novel high-pressure mineral, iron peroxide.

Led by Carnegie's Ho-kwang "Dave" Mao, the research team believes that as much as 300 million tons of water could be carried down into Earth's interior every year and generate deep, massive reservoirs of iron dioxide, which could be the source of the ultralow velocity zones that slow down seismic waves at the core-mantle boundary.

To test this idea, the team used sophisticated tools at Argonne National Laboratory to examine the propagation of seismic waves through samples of iron peroxide that were created under deep-Earth-mimicking pressure and temperature conditions employing a laser-heated diamond anvil cell. They found that a mixture of normal mantle rock with 40 to 50 percent iron peroxide had the same seismic signature as the enigmatic ultralow velocity zones.

For the research team, one of the most-exciting aspects of this finding is the potential of a reservoir of oxygen deep in the planet's interior, which if periodically released to the Earth's surface could significantly alter the Earth's early atmosphere, potentially explaining the dramatic increase in atmospheric oxygen that occurred about 2.4 billion years ago according to the geologic record.

"Finding the existence of a giant internal oxygen reservoir has many far-reaching implications," Mao explained. "Now we should reconsider the consequences of sporadic oxygen outbursts and their correlations to other major events in the Earth's history, such as the banded-iron formation, snowball Earth, mass extinctions, flood basalts, and supercontinent rifts."

###

Other team members including Jin Liu, Qingyang Hu, and Wendy L. Mao of Stanford University; Duckyoung Kim of the Center of High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research in China, Zhongqing Wu and Wenzhong Wang of University of Science and Technology of China; Yuming Xiao, Paul Chow, and Yue Meng of Carnegie's High Pressure Collaborative Access Team; and Vitali B. Prakapenka of Center for Advanced Radiation Sources.

This work is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Deep Carbon Observatory, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Ho-kwang "Dave" Mao | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Heidelberg Researchers Study Unique Underwater Stalactites
24.11.2017 | Universität Heidelberg

nachricht Lightning, with a chance of antimatter
24.11.2017 | Kyoto University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum internet goes hybrid

In a recent study, published in Nature, ICFO researchers Nicolas Maring, Pau Farrera, Dr. Kutlu Kutluer, Dr. Margherita Mazzera, and Dr. Georg Heinze led by ICREA Prof. Hugues de Riedmatten, have achieved an elementary "hybrid" quantum network link and demonstrated for the first time photonic quantum communication between two very distinct quantum nodes placed in different laboratories, using a single photon as information carrier.

Today, quantum information networks are ramping up to become a disruptive technology that will provide radically new capabilities for information processing...

Im Focus: New proton record: Researchers measure magnetic moment with greatest possible precision

High-precision measurement of the g-factor eleven times more precise than before / Results indicate a strong similarity between protons and antiprotons

The magnetic moment of an individual proton is inconceivably small, but can still be quantified. The basis for undertaking this measurement was laid over ten...

Im Focus: Frictional Heat Powers Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus

Computer simulation shows how the icy moon heats water in a porous rock core

Heat from the friction of rocks caused by tidal forces could be the “engine” for the hydrothermal activity on Saturn's moon Enceladus. This presupposes that...

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mysterious deep-Earth seismic signature explained

27.11.2017 | Earth Sciences

How the Earth stops high-energy neutrinos in their tracks

27.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Quantum internet goes hybrid

27.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>