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Elastic Anisotropy of Earth's Inner Core

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Science  08 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5864, pp. 797-800
DOI: 10.1126/science.1150302

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Abstract

Earth's solid-iron inner core is elastically anisotropic. Sound waves propagate faster along Earth's spin axis than in the equatorial plane. This anisotropy has previously been explained by a preferred orientation of the iron alloy hexagonal crystals. However, hexagonal iron becomes increasingly isotropic on increasing temperature at pressures of the inner core and is therefore unlikely to cause the anisotropy. An alternative explanation, supported by diamond anvil cell experiments, is that iron adopts a body-centered cubic form in the inner core. We show, by molecular dynamics simulations, that the body-centered cubic iron phase is extremely anisotropic to sound waves despite its high symmetry. Direct simulations of seismic wave propagation reveal an anisotropy of 12%, a value adequate to explain the anisotropy of the inner core.

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