Water is no lubricant: Reassessment of the role of water in plate tectonics

Jun 12, 2013

Water in the Earth's crust and upper mantle may not play such an important role as a lubricant of plate tectonics as previously assumed. This is a result geoscientists present in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature after the examination of water in the mineral olivine.

Laboratory experiments over the past three decades have suggested the presence of water greatly weakens the of the mineral olivine, a key component of the Earth's . In a recent study led by the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth, the Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS) facility at the Potsdam based GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences was used to reassess the importance of water in defining the rigidity of olivine.

While earlier studies were based on mineral aggregates, the SIMS method enabled a look at the role of water in single olivine crystals at the near-.

Michael Wiedenbeck, who conducted the SIMS experiment at the GFZ: "We discovered that water has a much, much lower effect in terms of the mechanical weakening of olivine as previously believed. The new observations call for a reassessment of the role of water within the Earth's interior." One important consequence is that the earlier concept, indicating that water provides lubrication for , needs to be carefully reconsidered.

Explore further: Fast access to CryoSat's Arctic ice measurements now available

More information: Small effect of water on upper-mantle rheology based on silicon self-diffusion coefficients, DOI: 10.1038/nature12193 ; vol 498; issue 7453; pp. 213-215

Related Stories

Moon may harbour alien minerals, study says

May 26, 2013

Minerals found in craters on the Moon may be remnants of asteroids that slammed into it and not, as long believed, the satellite's innards exposed by such impacts, a study said Sunday.

Extensive water in Mars' interior

Jun 21, 2012

Until now, Earth was the only planet known to have vast reservoirs of water in its interior. Scientists analyzed the water content of two Martian meteorites originating from inside the Red Planet. They found ...

Researchers analyse 'rock dissolving' method of geoengineering

Jan 21, 2013

(Phys.org)—The benefits and side effects of dissolving particles in our ocean's surfaces to increase the marine uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2), and therefore reduce the excess amount of it in the atmosphere, have been analysed ...

Study sheds light on Earth's early mantle

May 06, 2013

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by scientists at Boston University's Department of Earth and Environment, has found evidence that material contained in young oceanic lava flows originated ...

Recommended for you

Ocean currents impact methane consumption

13 hours ago

Large amounts of methane - whether as free gas or as solid gas hydrates - can be found in the sea floor along the ocean shores. When the hydrates dissolve or when the gas finds pathways in the sea floor to ...

Study shines new light on the source of diamonds

18 hours ago

A team of specialists from four Australian universities, including the University of Western Australia, has established the exact source of a diamond-bearing rock for the first time.

Source of Earth's ringing? French team views ocean waves

18 hours ago

Three researchers in France have authored "How ocean waves rock the Earth: Two mechanisms explain microseisms with periods 3 to 300 s," published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the Americ ...

User comments : 0

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.