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 Six-decade-old space mystery solved with shoebox-sized satellite called a CubeSat
15.12.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht NSF-funded researchers find that ice sheet is dynamic and has repeatedly grown and shrunk
15.12.2017 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>