Minerals go 'dark' near Earth's core

May 25, 2006
Minerals go 'dark' near Earth's core
The deep Earth mineral magnesiowüstite can transmit infrared radiation at normal atmospheric pressures, but loses this ability when squashed to over a half million times the pressure at sea level.

Minerals crunched by intense pressure near the Earth's core lose much of their ability to conduct infrared light, according to a new study from the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory. Since infrared light contributes to the flow of heat, the result challenges some long-held notions about heat transfer in the lower mantle, the layer of molten rock that surrounds the Earth's solid core. The work could aid the study of mantle plumes--large columns of hot upwelling magma believed to produce features such as the Hawaiian Islands and Iceland.

Crystals of magnesiowüstite, a common mineral within the deep Earth, can transmit infrared light at normal atmospheric pressures. But when squashed to over half a million times the pressure at sea level, these crystals instead absorb infrared light, which hinders the flow of heat. The research will appear in the May 26, 2006 issue of the journal Science.

Carnegie staff members Alexander Goncharov and Viktor Struzhkin, with postdoctoral fellow Steven Jacobsen, pressed crystals of magnesiowüstite using a diamond anvil cell--a chamber bound by two superhard diamonds capable of generating incredible pressure. They then shone intense light through the crystals and measured the wavelengths of light that made it through. To their surprise, the compressed crystals absorbed much of the light in the infrared range, suggesting that magnesiowüstite is a poor conductor of heat at high pressures.

"The flow of heat in Earth's deep interior plays an important role in the dynamics, structure, and evolution of the planet," Goncharov said. There are three primary mechanisms by which heat is likely to circulate in the deep Earth: conduction, the transfer of heat from one material or area to another; radiation, the flow of energy via infrared light; and convection, the movement of hot material. "The relative amount of heat flow from these three mechanisms is currently under intense debate," Goncharov added.

Magnesiowüstite is the second most common mineral in the lower mantle. Since it does not transmit heat well at high pressures, the mineral could actually form insulating patches around much of the Earth's core. If that is the case, radiation might not contribute to overall heat flow in these areas, and conduction and convection might play a bigger role in venting heat from the core.

"It's still too early to tell exactly how this discovery will affect deep-Earth geophysics," Goncharov said. "But so much of what we assume about the deep Earth relies on our models of heat transfer, and this study calls a lot of that into question."

Source: Carnegie Institution

Explore further: Mexico's Volcano of Fire blows huge ash cloud

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hubble reveals a super-rich galactic neighborhood

Nov 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the super-rich galaxy cluster Abell 1413. Located between the constellations of Leo (The Lion) and Coma Berenices, the cluster is ...

Scientists light the way for future electronic devices

Nov 17, 2014

Researchers from the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton have demonstrated how glass can be manipulated to create electronic devices that will be smaller, faster and consume ...

Does dark magma lurk in deep Earth?

Nov 13, 2014

(Phys.org) —A key to understanding Earth's evolution is to look deep into the lower mantle—a region some 400 to 1,800 miles (660 to 2,900 kilometers) below the surface, just above the core. Data have ...

Astronomers thrilled by extreme storms on Uranus

Nov 12, 2014

The normally bland face of Uranus has become increasingly stormy, with enormous cloud systems so bright that for the first time ever, amateur astronomers are able to see details in the planet's hazy blue-green ...

Recommended for you

Erosion may trigger earthquakes

Nov 21, 2014

Researchers from laboratories at Géosciences Rennes (CNRS/Université de Rennes 1), Géosciences Montpellier (CNRS/Université de Montpellier 2) and Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (CNRS/IPGP/Université Paris Diderot), ...

Strong undersea earthquake hits eastern Indonesia

Nov 21, 2014

A strong undersea earthquake hit off the coast of eastern Indonesia on Friday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage and officials said it was unlikely to trigger a tsunami.

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.