Minerals crunched by intense pressure near the Earths core lose much of their ability to conduct infrared light, according to a new study from the Carnegie Institutions Geophysical Laboratory. Since infrared light contributes to the flow of heat, the result challenges some long-held notions about heat transfer in the lower mantle, the layer of molten rock that surrounds the Earths solid core. The work could aid the study of mantle plumes--large columns of hot upwelling magma believed to produce features such as the Hawaiian Islands and Iceland.
Crystals of magnesiowüstite, a common mineral within the deep Earth, can transmit infrared light at normal atmospheric pressures. But when squashed to over half a million times the pressure at sea level, these crystals instead absorb infrared light, which hinders the flow of heat. The research will appear in the May 26, 2006 issue of the journal Science.
Carnegie staff members Alexander Goncharov and Viktor Struzhkin, with postdoctoral fellow Steven Jacobsen, pressed crystals of magnesiowüstite using a diamond anvil cell--a chamber bound by two superhard diamonds capable of generating incredible pressure. They then shone intense light through the crystals and measured the wavelengths of light that made it through. To their surprise, the compressed crystals absorbed much of the light in the infrared range, suggesting that magnesiowüstite is a poor conductor of heat at high pressures.
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