The unusual capability of solid crystalline materials to deform plastically, known as superplasticity, has been found in metals and even in ceramics1. Such superplastic behaviour has been speculated for decades to take place in geological materials, ranging from surface ice sheets to the Earth’s lower mantle2,3,4,5,6,7,8. In materials science, superplasticity is confirmed when the material deforms with large tensile strain without failure; however, no experimental studies have yet shown this characteristic in geomaterials. Here we show that polycrystalline forsterite + periclase (9:1) and forsterite + enstatite + diopside (7:2.5:0.5), which are good analogues for Earth’s mantle, undergo homogeneous elongation of up to 500 per cent under subsolidus conditions. Such superplastic deformation is accompanied by strain hardening, which is well explained by the grain size sensitivity of superplasticity and grain growth under grain switching conditions (that is, grain boundary sliding); grain boundary sliding is the main deformation mechanism for superplasticity. We apply the observed strain–grain size–viscosity relationship to portions of the mantle where superplasticity has been presumed to take place, such as localized shear zones in the upper mantle and within subducting slabs penetrating into the transition zone and lower mantle after a phase transformation. Calculations show that superplastic flow in the mantle is inevitably accompanied by significant grain growth that can bring fine grained (≤1 μm) rocks to coarse-grained (1–10 mm) aggregates, resulting in increasing mantle viscosity and finally termination of superplastic flow.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Progress in Earth and Planetary Science Open Access 11 June 2022
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Wakai, F., Sakaguchi, S. & Matsuno, Y. Superplasticity of yttria-stabilized tetragonal ZrO2 polycrystals. Adv. Ceram. Mater. 1, 259–263 (1986)
Goldsby, D. L. & Kohlstedt, D. L. Superplastic deformation of ice: experimental observations. J. Geophys. Res. 106 (B6). 11017–11030 (2001)
Boullier, A. M. & Gueguen, Y. SP-Mylonites: origin of some mylonites by superplastic flow. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 50, 93–104 (1975)
Behrmann, J. H. & Mainprice, D. Deformation mechanisms in a high-temperature quartz-feldspar mylonite: evidence for superplastic flow in the lower continental crust. Tectonophysics 140, 297–305 (1987)
Warren, J. M. & Hirth, G. Grain size sensitive deformation mechanisms in naturally deformed peridotites. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 248, 423–435 (2006)
Karato, S., Dupas-Bruzek, C. & Rubie, D. C. Plastic deformation of silicate spinel under the transition-zone conditions of the Earth's mantle. Nature 395, 266–269 (1998)
Ito, E. & Sato, H. Aseismicity in the lower mantle by superplasticity of the descending slab. Nature 351, 140–141 (1991)
Karato, S., Zhang, S. & Wenk, H. R. Superplasticity in Earth’s lower mantle: evidence from seismic anisotropy and rock physics. Science 270, 458–461 (1995)
Karato, S. Deformation of Earth Materials: an Introduction to the Rheology of Solid Earth (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008)
Ashby, M. F. & Verrall, R. A. Diffusion-accommodated flow and superplasticity. Acta Metall. 21, 149–163 (1973)
Koizumi, S. et al. Synthesis of highly dense and fine-grained aggregates of mantle composites by vacuum sintering of mineral nano-powders. Phys. Chem. Miner. 37, 505–518 (2010)
Hiraga, K., Kim, B.-N., Morita, K., Suzuki, T. S. & Sakka, Y. Microstructural design for high-strain-rate superplastic oxide ceramics. J. Ceram. Soc. Jpn 113, 191–197 (2005)
Ardell, A. J. On the coarsening of grain boundary precipitates. Acta Metall. 20, 601–609 (1972)
Speight, M. V. Grain growth kinetics of grain-boundary precipitates. Acta Metall. 16, 133–135 (1968)
Wilkinson, D. S. & Cáceres, C. H. On the mechanism of strain-enhanced grain growth during superplastic deformation. Acta Metall. 32, 1335–1345 (1984)
Ishii, K., Kanagawa, K., Shigematsu, N. & Okudaira, T. High ductility of K-feldspar and development of granitic banded ultramylonite in the Ryoke metamorphic belt. SW Jpn J. Struct. Geol. 29, 1083–1098 (2007)
Holm, K., Embury, J. D. & Purdy, G. R. Structure and properties of microduplex Zr-Nb alloys. Acta Metall. 25, 1191–1200 (1977)
Sato E, Kuribayashi, K. & Horiuchi, R. in Superplasticity and Superplastic Forming (eds Hamilton, C. H. & Paton, N. E. ) 115–119 (Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, 1988)
Nieh, T. G., Wadsworth, J. & Wakai, F. Recent advances in superplastic ceramics and ceramic composites. Int. Mater. Rev. 36, 146–161 (1991)
Farver, J. R. & Yund, R. A. Silicon diffusion in forsterite aggregates: implications for diffusion accommodated creep. Geophys. Res. Lett. 27, 2337–2340 (2000)
Shimojuku, A. et al. Si and O diffusion in (Mg,Fe)2SiO4 wadsleyite and ringwoodite and its implications for the rheology of the mantle transition zone. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 284, 103–112 (2009)
Yamazaki, D., Kato, T., Yurimoto, H., Ohtani, E. & Toriumi, M. Silicon self-diffusion in MgSiO3 perovskite at 25 GPa. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 119, 299–309 (2000)
Kubo, T., Kaneshima, S., Torii, Y. & Yoshioka, S. Seismological and experimental constraints on metastable phase transformations and rheology of the Mariana slab. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 287, 12–23 (2009)
Yamazaki, D., Kato, T., Ohtani, E. & Toriumi, M. Grain growth rates of MgSiO3-perovskite and periclase under lower mantle conditions. Science 274, 2052–2054 (1996)
Solomatov, V. S., El-Khonzondar, R. & Tikare, V. Grain size in the lower mantle: constrains from numerical modeling of grain growth in two-phase systems. Phys. Earth Planet. Inter. 129, 265–282 (2002)
Hirth, G. & Kohlstedt, D. L. in The Subduction Factory (ed. Eiler, J. ) 83–105 (Geophys. Monogr. 138, American Geophysical Union, 2003)
Yamazaki, D. & Karato, S. Some mineral physics constraints on the rheology and geothermal structure of Earth's lower mantle. Am. Mineral. 86, 385–391 (2001)
Hiraga, T., Tachibana, C., Ohashi, N. & Sano, S. Grain growth systematics for forsterite ± enstatite aggregates: effect of lithology on grain size in the upper mantle. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 291, 10–20 (2010)
Technical support from S. Sano, N. Ohashi, S. Ohtsuka, K. Ibe, M. Uchida, H. Yoshida and A. Yasuda is appreciated. Scientific discussions with T. Kubo, S. Honda, T. Takei and D. L. Kohlstedt were valuable. Part of the synthesis of the specimens was supported by S. Sano, Ube Materials. Scientific and editorial comments from C. McCarthy were valuable. This research was supported by the JSPS through a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A 20684024), by the Earthquake Research Institute’s cooperative research programme (to T.H.) and by a Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (A 19686042), a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B 21360328) and a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas (474-19053008) (to H.Y.).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Hiraga, T., Miyazaki, T., Tasaka, M. et al. Mantle superplasticity and its self-made demise. Nature 468, 1091–1094 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09685
This article is cited by
Progress in Earth and Planetary Science (2022)
How Properties that Distinguish Solids from Fluids and Constraints of Spherical Geometry Suppress Lower Mantle Convection
Journal of Earth Science (2018)
Synthesis of crystallographically oriented olivine aggregates using colloidal processing in a strong magnetic field
Physics and Chemistry of Minerals (2016)