Research Article

Disproportionation of (Mg,Fe)SiO3 perovskite in Earth’s deep lower mantle

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Science  23 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6186, pp. 877-882
DOI: 10.1126/science.1250274

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The mineralogical constitution of the Earth’s mantle dictates the geophysical and geochemical properties of this region. Previous models of a perovskite-dominant lower mantle have been built on the assumption that the entire lower mantle down to the top of the D″ layer contains ferromagnesian silicate [(Mg,Fe)SiO3] with nominally 10 mole percent Fe. On the basis of experiments in laser-heated diamond anvil cells, at pressures of 95 to 101 gigapascals and temperatures of 2200 to 2400 kelvin, we found that such perovskite is unstable; it loses its Fe and disproportionates to a nearly Fe-free MgSiO3 perovskite phase and an Fe-rich phase with a hexagonal structure. This observation has implications for enigmatic seismic features beyond ~2000 kilometers depth and suggests that the lower mantle may contain previously unidentified major phases.

Delving deeper into the lower mantle

Earth's lower mantle is an enigmatic region, a transition zone between slowly churning solids and a liquid outer core. Large seismic structures and discontinuities in this region are probably due to sharp gradients in temperature, composition, or mineralogy. Teasing apart the precise effects of these factors requires experiments at lower mantle temperatures and pressures (see the Perspective by Williams). Zhang et al. found that the major mineral phase of the lower mantle decomposes into two minerals. Andrault et al. show how the melting of subducted basalt from the oceanic crust will form pile-like structures on top of the core/mantle boundary.

Science, this issue p. 877, p. 892; see also p. 800.

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