As much as two-thirds of Earth's carbon may be hidden in the inner core, making it the planet's largest carbon reservoir, according to a new model that even its backers acknowledge is "provocative and speculative."
In a paper scheduled for online publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues suggest that iron carbide, Fe7C3, provides a good match for the density and sound velocities of Earth's inner core under the relevant conditions.
The model, if correct, could help resolve observations that have troubled researchers for decades, according to authors of the PNAS paper.
The first author is Bin Chen, who did much of the work at the University of Michigan before taking a faculty position at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The principal investigator of the project, Jie Li, is an associate professor in U-M's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
"The model of a carbide inner core is compatible with existing cosmochemical, geochemical and petrological constraints, but this provocative and speculative hypothesis still requires further testing," Li said. "Should it hold up to various tests, the model would imply that as much as two-thirds of the planet's carbon is hidden in its center sphere, making it the largest reservoir of carbon on Earth."
It is now widely accepted that Earth's inner core consists of crystalline iron alloyed with a small amount of nickel and some lighter elements. However, seismic waves called S waves travel through the inner core at about half the speed expected for most iron-rich alloys under relevant pressures.
Some researchers have attributed the S-wave velocities to the presence of liquid, calling into question the solidity of the inner core. In recent years, the presence of various light elements—including sulfur, carbon, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen—has been proposed to account for the density deficit of Earth's core.
Iron carbide has recently emerged as a leading candidate component of the inner core. In the PNAS paper, the researchers conclude that the presence of iron carbide could explain the anomalously slow S waves, thus eliminating the need to invoke partial melting.
"This model challenges the conventional view that the Earth is highly depleted in carbon, and therefore bears on our understanding of Earth's accretion and early differentiation," the PNAS authors wrote.
In their study, the researchers used a variety of experimental techniques to obtain sound velocities for iron carbide up to core pressures. In addition, they detected the anomalous effect of spin transition of iron on sound velocities.
They used diamond-anvil cell techniques in combination with a suite of advanced synchrotron methods including nuclear resonant inelastic X-ray scattering, synchrotron Mössbauser spectroscopy and X-ray emission spectroscopy.
Other U-M authors of the PNAS paper are Zeyu Li and Jiachao Liu of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The study was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. It also benefited from a Crosby Award from the U-M ADVANCE program and U-M's Associate Professor Support Fund.
Jim Erickson, 734-647-1842, email@example.com
Jim Erickson | newswise
Scientists discover Earth's youngest banded iron formation in western China
12.07.2018 | University of Alberta
Drones survey African wildlife
11.07.2018 | Schweizerischer Nationalfonds SNF
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
16.07.2018 | Transportation and Logistics
16.07.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science