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Slab stagnation in the shallow lower mantle linked to an increase in mantle viscosity


Subduction of oceanic lithosphere is the main process by which material from Earth’s surface and atmosphere is recycled back into the deep mantle. Seismic images indicate that subducting slabs of oceanic lithosphere can stagnate and broaden in the shallow lower mantle1,2. The main phases of the lower mantle, bridgmanite and ferropericlase, do not show any structural transitions at these depths, so only moderate and smooth viscosity variations are expected with depth3,4 to at least 2,500 km. The reason for slab stagnation, which may also lead to the formation of chemically distinct reservoirs in Earth’s deep mantle5, is therefore unclear. Here we use synchrotron radial X-ray diffraction to measure in situ the deformation behaviour of ferropericlase at pressures of up to 96 GPa. We find that the strength of ferropericlase increases by a factor of three at pressures from 20 to 65 GPa. Modelling based on our experimental data shows that the viscosity in the region surrounding the subducting slabs could increase by 2.3 orders of magnitude throughout the upper 900 km of the lower mantle. Such a strong increase in viscosity can lead to the stagnation of slabs that are sinking through the shallow lower mantle.

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Figure 1: Lattice strains in Q(111), Q(200), Q(220) and Q(311) measured in (Mg0.8Fe0.2)O and (Mg0.9Fe0.1)O ferropericlase.
Figure 2: Strength of (Mg0.8Fe0.2)O ferropericlase.
Figure 3: Subducting slab in the lower mantle and effective viscosity profiles.


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H.M. acknowledges support by the German Science Foundation through grants SP1216/3-1 and MA4534/3-1. L.M. was partially supported by the National Science Foundation grant EAR-1344579. The Advanced Light Source is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231. We thank D. Frost for providing the ferropericlase powders and K. K. M. Lee for providing consumables. Discussions with S. Merkel, S. Speziale, R. Myhill, R. Farla and L. Morales are acknowledged. We would also like to thank P. Cordier, whose comments greatly improved the manuscript.

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Both authors contributed equally to the design and execution of this research and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Hauke Marquardt.

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Marquardt, H., Miyagi, L. Slab stagnation in the shallow lower mantle linked to an increase in mantle viscosity. Nature Geosci 8, 311–314 (2015).

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