Computer simulations strongly support new theory of Earth's core

February 8, 2008
Earth

Swedish researchers present in today’s Web edition of the journal Science evidence that their theory about the core of the earth is correct. Among other applications, the findings may be of significance for our understanding of the cooling down of the earth, and of the stability of the earth’s magnetic field.

It has long been known that the inner core of the earth, a sphere consisting of a solid mass with a radius of about 1,200 km, is mainly made up of iron. However, seismic observations have shown that elastic waves pass more rapidly through this core in directions that are parallel to the earth’s axis of rotation than in directions parallel to the equator­-a phenomenon that has not been previously explained. At the high temperatures that prevail in the core of the earth, these waves should pass at the same speed regardless of their direction.

In the present study, scientists from Uppsala University and KTH present an explanation for this puzzling characteristic. The publication is part of a series of articles published by the same research team in Nature and Science. Initially, in 2003, they published strong theoretical proof that the earth’s core assumes the so-called body-centered cubic crystal structure at high temperatures­-a structure that despite its high degree of symmetry evinces a surprisingly high level of elastic anisotropy, that is, its elastic properties are contingent on direction. This theory about the crystal structure directly contradicted the then prevailing view, but since then the theory has found both experimental and theoretical support.

In this new study the researchers present simulations of how seismic waves are reproduced in iron under the conditions that prevail in the core of the earth, showing a difference of about 12 percent depending on their direction-­which suffices as an explanation for the puzzling observations. First the trajectories of movement were calculated for several million atoms in strong interaction with each other. On this basis, the scientists were then able to determine that the progress of the sound waves was actually accurately described in the computer-generated model for iron under the conditions prevailing in the core of the earth.

“We found that the body-centered cubic structure of iron is the only structure that could correspond to the experimental observations,” says Börje Johansson, professor of condensed-matter theory at Uppsala University.

The earth’s heat balance, like its magnetic field, is dependent on the amount of heat that is stored in the inner core of the earth. These conditions, in turn, are dependent on the crystal structure of the iron in the inner core. Previously these estimates were based on models deriving from the hexagonal structure of iron in the inner core. The Swedish scientists’ discovery will now entail a critical revaluation of the cooling off of the earth and of the stability of its magnetic field.

“This study opens new perspectives for our understanding of the earth’s past, present, and future,” says Natalia Skorodumova, a researcher at the Department of Physics and Materials Science.

In their studies these researchers have used models based on the so-called density-functional theory for which Walter Kohn was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize. The calculations were carried out using the most powerful parallel supercomputers in existence, in Stockholm and Linköping.

The body-centered cubic crystal structure forms a cube with atoms in each corner and a further atom in the middle of this cube. It is oriented in such a way that its great diagonal is directed along the earth’s axis of rotation, which makes it possible for the iron to evince sound propagations with the velocities observed.

Source: Uppsala University

Explore further: Why is life left-handed? The answer is in the stars

Related Stories

Why is life left-handed? The answer is in the stars

July 21, 2015

While most humans are right-handed, our proteins are made up of lefty molecules. In the same way your left and right hands mirror one another, molecules can assemble in two reflected structures. Life prefers the left-handed ...

Is there life on Pluto?

July 13, 2015

First discovered in 1930, Pluto was considered to be the ninth planet in our Solar System for many decades. And though its status has since been downgraded to that of a dwarf planet, thanks to the discovery of Eris in 2004, ...

Why can't we see the center of the Milky Way?

July 10, 2015

For millennia, human beings have stared up at the night sky and stood in awe of the Milky Way. Today, stargazers and amateur astronomers continue in this tradition, knowing that what they are witnessing is in fact a collection ...

What is a terrestrial planet?

July 2, 2015

In studying our solar system over the course of many centuries, astronomers learned a great deal about the types of planets that exist in our universe. This knowledge has since expanded thanks to the discovery of extrasolar ...

Extreme lab at European X-ray laser XFEL is a go

July 2, 2015

The Helmholtz Senate has given the green light for the Association's involvement in the Helmholtz International Beamline (HIB), a new kind of experimentation station at the X-ray laser European XFEL in Hamburg, Germany. As ...

Recommended for you

'Carbon sink' detected underneath world's deserts

July 28, 2015

The world's deserts may be storing some of the climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, a new study suggests. Massive aquifers underneath deserts could hold more carbon than all the plants on land, according ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

out7x
1 / 5 (3) Feb 09, 2008
Only P-waves travel to core. Core should not have any crystal structure due to heat and pressure.
EarthScientist
1 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2008
Gentlemen, The earths core is not iron at all,It is a crystal and the waves propagate end to end from the flows that propagate through the grid field. That crystalline structure was grown and is ammonia by the way. I am a grid scientist and assure you that grid science will always explain any quandary most neophyte physics theorists hold forth as their truth. Grid science is not taught to everyone for varying reasons,and some I agree with and some I do not. Gravity gentlemen is created on any spinning planet from that crystalline ammonia being tasked at a low tone and the grid field surrounding the earth is at a higher tone,it pulls the grid energy to it.The hyperdimensional geometric grid field provides our motor and weather energy and anyone paying any attention at all can see the grid field manifestation with just a few clues.Its just the way it is gentlemen,gravity and the purpose of each planet in our solar system is just simply academic to grid scientists,it just is.But most of you will deny every process I release,it just seems to be the way of science theorists these days.
quantum_flux
not rated yet Apr 03, 2008
It is strange how a cubic centered computer model would accurately explain the phenomina observed in field measurements. How close is this model to the observations?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.