Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Earth could hold more water

08.03.2002


A more watery lower mantle would churn faster.
© SPL


Five times as much water as in all the world’s oceans may lurk deep below its surface.

Geologists have divined water where you might least expect it: 1,000 kilometres below the Earth’s surface. Here, rocks heated to over 1,000 oC and squeezed under high pressures may harbour around five times as much water as in all the world’s oceans. This could give clues to how the Earth formed and how it behaves today.

Between 650 and 2,900 km below the Earth’s surface hot, compressed minerals surround the planet’s iron-rich core. Called the lower mantle, this material may hold up to 0.2 per cent of its own weight in water, estimate Motohiko Murakami, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, and colleagues1.



Theories of planetary formation take into account how much easily vaporized material, such as water and carbon dioxide, were originally present. The findings hint that Earth’s starter mix may have been sloppier than anticipated.

Water would lower the melting point of rocks in the lower mantle and increase their viscosity. Over millions of years, the mantle churns like a pan of hot soup. This moves the tectonic plates and mixes the mantle’s chemical components. A more viscous mantle would churn faster.

The take-up of water by minerals in the lower mantle might also affect the ease with which tectonic plates sink deep into the Earth. As the plates descend, heat up and become squeezed, the water that they release might soften the surrounding mantle and ease their passage.

There is already thought to be several oceans’ worth of water slightly higher in the mantle, at a depth of around 400-650 km. This region is called the transition zone, as it is between the upper and the lower mantle.

The lower mantle’s minerals can retain about a tenth as much water as the rocks above, Murakami’s team finds. But because the volume of the lower mantle is much greater than that of the transition zone, it could hold a comparable amount of water.

"The findings will boost the debate about how much water is locked away in the mantle," says geologist Bernard Wood of the University of Bristol, UK. Until now, he says, "most people would have argued that there isn’t much water in the mantle". A similar study two years ago concluded that there isn’t much water down there at all2.

Taking on the mantle

Murakami’s team mimicked the lower mantle in the laboratory. They studied the three kinds of mineral thought to make up most of the region: two perovskites, one rich in magnesium, the other in calcium, and magnesiowustite, a mixture of magnesium and iron oxides.

To recreate the its furious conditions, the researchers used a multi-anvil cell. This heats materials while squeezing them between hard teeth. Having baked the minerals at around 1,600 oC and 250,000 atmospheres, the team measured how much hydrogen the rocks contained using secondary-ion mass spectrometry. This technique blasts the material with a beam of ions and detects the ions sprayed out from the surface.

Any hydrogen in the rocks presumably comes from trapped water, an idea that other measurements support. The researchers found more hydrogen than previous experiments had led them to expect.

References

  1. Murakami, M., Hirose, K., Yurimoto, H., Nakashima, S. & Takafuji, N. Water in Earth’s lower mantle. Science, 295, 1885 - 1887, (2002).
  2. Bolfan-Casanova, N., Kepler, H. & Rubie, D.C. Water partitioning between nominally anhydrous minerals in the MgO-SiO2-H2O system up to 24 GPa: implications for the distribution of water in the Earth’s mantle. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 182, 209, (2000).


PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht The Wadden Sea and the Elbe Studied with Zeppelin, Drones and Research Ships
19.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht - Zentrum für Material- und Küstenforschung

nachricht FotoQuest GO: Citizen science campaign targets land-use change in Austria
19.09.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

Im Focus: Silencing bacteria

HZI researchers pave the way for new agents that render hospital pathogens mute

Pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to common antibiotics to an ever increasing degree. One of the most difficult germs is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular Force Sensors

20.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Producing electricity during flight

20.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

20.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>