Deep-Focus Earthquakes and Recycling of Water into the Earth's Mantle

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Science  05 Apr 1991:
Vol. 252, Issue 5002, pp. 68-72
DOI: 10.1126/science.252.5002.68


For more than 50 years, observations of earthquakes to depths of 100 to 650 kilometers inside Earth have been enigmatic: at these depths, rocks are expected to deform by ductile flow rather than brittle fracturing or frictional sliding on fault surfaces. Laboratory experiments and detailed calculations of the pressures and temperatures in seismically active subduction zones indicate that this deep-focus seismicity could originate from dehydration and high-pressure structural instabilities occurring in the hydrated part of the lithosphere that sinks into the upper mantle. Thus, seismologists may be mapping the recirculation of water from the oceans back into the deep interior of our planet.

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