A more watery lower mantle would churn faster.
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.
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.
PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
World's first solar fuels reactor for night passes test
21.02.2018 | SolarPACES
Geophysicists and atmospheric scientists partner to track typhoons' seismic footprints
16.02.2018 | Princeton University
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
22.02.2018 | Business and Finance
22.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
22.02.2018 | Life Sciences