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Olivine crystals align during diffusion creep of Earth’s upper mantle


The crystallographic preferred orientation (CPO) of olivine produced during dislocation creep is considered to be the primary cause of elastic anisotropy in Earth’s upper mantle and is often used to determine the direction of mantle flow. A fundamental question remains, however, as to whether the alignment of olivine crystals is uniquely produced by dislocation creep. Here we report the development of CPO in iron-free olivine (that is, forsterite) during diffusion creep; the intensity and pattern of CPO depend on temperature and the presence of melt, which control the appearance of crystallographic planes on grain boundaries. Grain boundary sliding on these crystallography-controlled boundaries accommodated by diffusion contributes to grain rotation, resulting in a CPO. We show that strong radial anisotropy is anticipated at temperatures corresponding to depths where melting initiates to depths where strongly anisotropic and low seismic velocities are detected. Conversely, weak anisotropy is anticipated at temperatures corresponding to depths where almost isotropic mantle is found. We propose diffusion creep to be the primary means of mantle flow.

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Figure 1: Strain rate as a function of stress.
Figure 2: Lower-hemispheric projections of the crystallographic orientations of forsterite grains.
Figure 3: SEM backscatter images of reference and deformed samples of Fo+Di, partly molten Fo+Di and Fo+An.
Figure 4: J index determined from EBSD analyses of the deformed samples as a function of aspect ratio of forsterite grains in the reference sample.
Figure 5: Proposed depth distributions of olivine crystal shape and fabrics during diffusion-accommodated GBS creep of peridotite in the asthenosphere.


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Discussions with H. Yoshida, K. Morita, M. E. Zimmerman, Y. Takei, S. Michibayashi, B. K. Holtzman, K. Baba, T. Isse and H. Kawakatsu were very helpful. We thank Ube Material Industries, S. Ohtsuka, K. Ibe, M. Uchida and A. Yasuda for technical assistance. A portion of this work was conducted at the Center for Nano Lithography and Analysis of the University of Tokyo, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan. This study was supported by the JSPS through Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research 23684043, 22000003 and 21109005, and through the Earthquake Research Institute’s cooperative research programme (T.H.).

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T.M., K.S. and T.H. organized the project, and T.H. and T.M. completed the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Takehiko Hiraga.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Typical stress–strain curve for a Fo+Di sample.

The result was obtained from the compression experiment on the sample KF-160 at a constant displacement rate (v). The CPO of forsterite for this sample is shown in Fig. 2.

Extended Data Figure 2 The CPO of forsterite grains from tension experiments on Fo+Di samples at 1,330 °C with different amounts of strain (KS-16, ε = 1.1; KS-17, ε = 1.5).

The CPO of the sample with the smallest strain (KS-13, ε = 0.6) is shown in Fig. 2.

Extended Data Figure 3 Angles between crystallographic axes of forsterite and apparent long axes of forsterite grains in the Fo+Di samples.

Crystallographic a, b and c axes were measured by SEM/EBSD, whereas the long axes were determined from the grain shapes. Highly anisotropic grains were selectively measured. N, number of measured grains. a, Angle frequency in the sample statically annealed at 1,330 °C for 20 h (NV-323). b, CPO of the grains analysed in a. c, Angle frequency in the sample compressed at 1,330 °C (KF-125). The angles were measured in sections cut perpendicularly to the compression axis in the deformed sample. d, CPO of the grains analysed in c. Note that b and c axes are perpendicular to the long axes in the deformed samples, whereas only b axes are clearly perpendicular to the long axes in the non-deformed samples. The CPO in b indicates that the highly anisotropic grains were well identified when the b axes of forsterite grains were parallel to the sample section when the grains were randomly oriented, whereas the CPO in d indicates that the highly anisotropic grains were well identified when the b axes of the grains were perpendicular when the grains were preferentially oriented in the sample. Thus, we can conclude that the longest axis of each grain was parallel to the a axis and that the second longest axis was parallel to the c axis. The shortest grain axis should be parallel to the b axis.

Extended Data Figure 4 TEM and high-resolution TEM images of a Fo+Di sample after the compression experiment at 1,350 °C (KF-191).

a, TEM image of multiple grains showing the large-scale structure of grain boundaries. b, High-resolution TEM image of the forsterite grain boundary indicated by the arrow in a, showing that the boundary is parallel to the (010) plane of the central forsterite grain. Bending contrasts and a circular contrast from beam damage are observed. No dislocations are identified.

Extended Data Figure 5 Specimens of Fo+Di.

a, Before the tension deformation experiment. b, After the deformation experiment at 1,330 °C (KS-17) achieving ε = 1.5. The CPO of this sample is shown in Extended Data Fig. 2.

Extended Data Figure 6 Schematic illustration of CPO formation during GBS.

Anisotropic grains rotate under the operation of GBS, where GBS is easy on the long straight grain boundaries relative to the short grain boundaries (modified after ref. 16). Overlap and cavities formed at intergranular regions during GBS are removed and compensated, respectively, by atomic diffusion. Easy GBS planes align in the flow direction followed by the grain rotation, resulting in the formation of CPO in our samples.

Extended Data Figure 7 The CPO of forsterite grains in a Fo+Di sample (KF-172).

The sample was statically annealed at 1,330 °C for 10 h and then deformed under compression (ε = 0.6) at 1,200 °C. The initial grain size of this sample before the creep test was already large (Extended Data Table 1).

Extended Data Figure 8 Sample of spinel (0.5 vol.%)-doped forsterite (50 vol.%) plus Ca-bearing pyroxene deformed at 1,320 °C with ε = 1.0.

a, Secondary electron image of the sample. A very small amount of melt (1 vol.%; black) is present, mostly at triple-grain junctions. Dark grey, forsterite; light grey, pyroxene. b, Lower-hemispheric projections of the crystallographic orientations of forsterite grains measured by SEM/EBSD. N, number of measured grains. Both grain shape and CPO resemble that observed at high T.

Extended Data Table 1 Experimental data

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Miyazaki, T., Sueyoshi, K. & Hiraga, T. Olivine crystals align during diffusion creep of Earth’s upper mantle. Nature 502, 321–326 (2013).

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