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Water content in the transition zone from electrical conductivity of wadsleyite and ringwoodite


The distribution of water in the Earth's interior reflects the way in which the Earth has evolved, and has an important influence on its material properties. Minerals in the transition zone of the Earth's mantle (from 410 to 660 km depth) have large water solubility1,2,3, and hence it is thought that the transition zone might act as a water reservoir. When the water content of the transition zone exceeds a critical value, upwelling flow might result in partial melting at 410 km, which would affect the distribution of certain elements in the Earth4. However, the amount of water in the transition zone has remained unknown. Here we determined the effects of water and temperature on the electrical conductivity of the minerals wadsleyite and ringwoodite to infer the water content of the transition zone. We find that the electrical conductivity of these minerals depends strongly on water content but only weakly on temperature. By comparing these results with geophysically inferred conductivity5,6,7, we infer that the water content in the mantle transition zone varies regionally, but that its value in the Pacific is estimated to be 0.1–0.2 wt%. These values significantly exceed the estimated critical water content in the upper mantle3,8,9, suggesting that partial melting may indeed occur at 410 km depth, at least in this region.

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Figure 1: Measured electrical conductivity.
Figure 2: The influence of temperature and water content on electrical conductivity.
Figure 3: A comparison of laboratory data on electrical conductivity as a function of water content with the geophysically inferred electrical conductivity in the mantle transition zone in the Pacific5.


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Z. Jiang and Y. Nishihara provided the technical assistance that made this research possible. This work was supported by the NSF of China and the NSF of the United States.Authors' contributions S.-I.K. supervised the whole project. The experimental measurements of electrical conductivity were made by X.H. in collaboration with Y.X., and the theoretical interpretation of the results and the geophysical applications were made by S.-I.K. together with Y.X.

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Correspondence to Shun-ichiro Karato.

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Huang, X., Xu, Y. & Karato, Si. Water content in the transition zone from electrical conductivity of wadsleyite and ringwoodite. Nature 434, 746–749 (2005).

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