Inferring Earth’s discontinuous chemical layering from the 660-kilometer boundary topography

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Science  15 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6428, pp. 736-740
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav0822

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Inferring blocked mantle convection

The boundaries between rocks with different physical properties in Earth's interior come from either a change in crystal structure or a change in chemical composition. Wu et al. examined the roughness of the boundary between Earth's upper and lower mantle, thought to form from a change in mineral structure (see the Perspective by Houser). To their surprise, in some locations, the boundary has small-scale roughness that requires some chemical difference above and below the boundary. This observation provides evidence of partially blocked mantle circulation that leads to some chemical differences between the upper and lower mantle.

Science, this issue p. 736; see also p. 696


Topography, or depth variation, of certain interfaces in the solid Earth can provide important insights into the dynamics of our planet interior. Although the intermediate- and long-range topographic variation of the 660-kilometer boundary between Earth’s upper and lower mantle is well studied, small-scale measurements are far more challenging. We found a surprising amount of topography at short length scale along the 660-kilometer boundary in certain regions using scattered P'P' seismic waves. Our observations required chemical layering in regions with high short-scale roughness. By contrast, we did not see such small-scale topography along the 410-kilometer boundary in the upper mantle. Our findings support the concept of partially blocked or imperfect circulation between the upper and lower mantle.

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