Computer simulations strongly support new theory of Earth's core

Feb 08, 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: NASA sees Tropical Cyclone Nilofar being affected by wind shear

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Chandra's archives come to life

Oct 22, 2014

Every year, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks at hundreds of objects throughout space to help expand our understanding of the Universe. Ultimately, these data are stored in the Chandra Data Archive, ...

$58 million effort to study potential new energy source

Oct 22, 2014

A research team led by The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded approximately $58 million to analyze deposits of frozen methane under the Gulf of Mexico that hold enormous potential to increase ...

Recommended for you

Fighting the global water scarcity issue

2 minutes ago

According to the World Water Management Institute, over one-third of the human population is affected by water scarcity. If nothing is done to prevent it, an estimated 1.8 billion people will be living in ...

First Swedish hard-rock diamonds discovered

12 minutes ago

An Uppsala-led research group has presented the first verified discovery of diamonds in Swedish bedrock. The diamonds are small, but provide important clues to the geological evolution of rocks.

Harnessing crowds to analyze clouds

32 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —When it comes to analyzing hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, lack of data isn't the problem. Scientists have 30 years' worth of satellite images of these massive storms. However, what ...

User comments : 3

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.