Letter | Published:

Redox-influenced seismic properties of upper-mantle olivine

Nature volume 555, pages 355358 (15 March 2018) | Download Citation


Lateral variations of seismic wave speeds and attenuation (dissipation of strain energy) in the Earth’s upper mantle have the potential to map key characteristics such as temperature, major-element composition, melt fraction and water content1,2,3. The inversion of these data into meaningful representations of physical properties requires a robust understanding of the micromechanical processes that affect the propagation of seismic waves2,3. Structurally bound water (hydroxyl) is believed to affect seismic properties2,3 but this has yet to be experimentally quantified. Here we present a comprehensive low-frequency forced-oscillation assessment of the seismic properties of olivine as a function of water content within the under-saturated regime that is relevant to the Earth’s interior. Our results demonstrate that wave speeds and attenuation are in fact strikingly insensitive to water content. Rather, the redox conditions imposed by the choice of metal sleeving, and the associated defect chemistry, appear to have a substantial influence on the seismic properties. These findings suggest that elevated water contents are not responsible for low-velocity or high-attenuation structures in the upper mantle. Instead, the high attenuation observed in hydrous and oxidized regions of the upper mantle (such as above subduction zones) may reflect the prevailing oxygen fugacity. In addition, these data provide no support for the hypothesis whereby a sharp lithosphere–asthenosphere boundary is explained by enhanced grain boundary sliding in the presence of water.

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We thank H. Kokkonen and H. Miller for technical support with sample preparation and operation of the Australian National University rock physics laboratory, H. Chen for assistance with electron backscatter diffraction, and S. Karato of Yale University for suggestions that improved the manuscript. This work was supported by grant DP130103848 from the Australian Research Council to I.J., A.J.B., U.H.F. and S. Karato. U.H.F. acknowledges support from NSF grant EAR 1321889. C.J.C. gratefully acknowledges funding by an Australian National University International PhD Research Scholarship.

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Author notes

    • E. C. David

    Present address: Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, London, UK.


  1. Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • C. J. Cline II
    • , E. C. David
    • , A. J. Berry
    •  & I. Jackson
  2. Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

    • U. H. Faul


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C.J.C. conducted the forced-oscillation measurements (with contributions from E.C.D.). C.J.C. obtained the microstructural and spectroscopic data, subsequently interpreted by U.H.F., E.C.D., I.J., A.J.B. and C.J.C. and Fe3+ calculations were performed by U.H.F. The manuscript was written by C.J.C. with contributing revisions and discussion from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to C. J. Cline II.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks G. Abers and T. Irifune for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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