PerspectiveGeophysics

The New Core Paradox

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Science  25 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6157, pp. 431-432
DOI: 10.1126/science.1243477

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Summary

Among the terrestrial planets, Earth is by far the best endowed with energy to drive its internal dynamics. In addition to being the only planet known to have a global system of plate tectonics operating in its crust and mantle, Earth generates a strong magnetic field of its own through self-sustained dynamo action in its iron-rich core. The conventional view is that convection in the liquid outer core provides most of the energy for the geodynamo, and does so not just today, but also in the past, stretching backward in time for at least 3.4 billion years (1). Now that view is being challenged by fresh laboratory measurements and first-principles electronic structure calculations, indicating a far greater capacity for the core to transport heat by conduction and, by implication, less ability to transport heat by convection.