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Water in Earth's crust and upper mantle may not lubricate plate tectonics as much as previously assumed

Date:
June 12, 2013
Source:
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres
Summary:
Water in olivin mineral reveals less important role.
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Water in Earth's crust and upper mantle may not play such an important role as a lubricant of plate tectonics as previously assumed. This is a result geoscientists present in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature after the examination of water in the mineral olivine.

Laboratory experiments over the past three decades have suggested the presence of water greatly weakens the mechanical strength of the mineral olivine, a key component of the Earth's upper mantle. In a recent study led by the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth, the Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS) facility at the Potsdam based GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences was used to reassess the importance of water in defining the rigidity of olivine. While earlier studies were based on mineral aggregates, the SIMS method enabled a look at the role of water in single olivine crystals at the near-atomic scale.

Michael Wiedenbeck, who conducted the SIMS experiment at the GFZ: "We discovered that water has a much, much lower effect in terms of the mechanical weakening of olivine as previously believed. The new observations call for a reassessment of the role of water within the Earth's interior." One important consequence is that the earlier concept, indicating that water provides lubrication for continental drift, needs to be carefully reconsidered.


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The above story is based on materials provided by Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hongzhan Fei, Michael Wiedenbeck, Daisuke Yamazaki, Tomoo Katsura. Small effect of water on upper-mantle rheology based on silicon self-diffusion coefficients. Nature, 2013; 498 (7453): 213 DOI: 10.1038/nature12193

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Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. "Water in Earth's crust and upper mantle may not lubricate plate tectonics as much as previously assumed." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130612133136.htm>.
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. (2013, June 12). Water in Earth's crust and upper mantle may not lubricate plate tectonics as much as previously assumed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130612133136.htm
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. "Water in Earth's crust and upper mantle may not lubricate plate tectonics as much as previously assumed." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130612133136.htm (accessed May 30, 2015).

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