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Spinel elasticity and seismic structure of the transition zone of the mantle

Naturevolume 354pages143145 (1991) | Download Citation



THERE is continuing debate about whether the upper mantle is chemically stratified, and whether the seismic discontinuity at 400 km depth represents a chemical boundary, a phase change of the (Mg, Fe)2SiO4 component from the β phase (olivine) to the p phase, or a combination of both. Recent developments in high-pressure synthesis1,2 and ultrasonic interferometry3,4 have made possible measurements of elastic-wave velocities in small, poly-crystalline samples of high-pressure phases. By combining our new acoustic measurements on the spinel (γ) phase of Mg2 SiO4 with existing data for the α and β phases, we present here velocity profiles for the M2SiO4 component of the mantle (where M represents Mg or Fe) to depths of about 600 km. We find it to be unlikely that any seismologically observable velocity discontinuity at about 520 km depth can be attributed to this component, although the contrast in impedance (the product of density and velocity) might be sufficient for the β→γtransformation to be observed in long-period seismic reflection studies at near-normal incidence5. The velocity gradients in the transition zone, particularly for shear waves, are steeper than would be expected for simple adiabatic compression of likely mantle compositions, suggesting that alternative explanations including chemical heterogeneity and anelastic relaxation need to be explored.

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  1. Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, GPO Box 4, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2601, Australia

    • Sally M. Rigden
    • , John D. Fitz Gerald
    •  & Lan Jackson
  2. Center for High Pressure Research and Department of Earth and Space Sciences, State University of New York, Stony Brook, New York, 11794, USA

    • Gabriel D. Gwanmesia
    •  & Robert C. Liebermann


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