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Research suggests Earth’s core may be leaking iron


Iron isotopes from the Earth’s core may be leaking into the Earth’s mantle — changing the way we understand our planet.

Researchers from the University of California – Davis (UC Davis) have discovered promising activity inside the Earth that shows iron could be leaking from its molten core.

As part of a study into iron’s behaviour inside the planet, the researchers discovered liquid iron moving from the core to the planet’s rocky mantle. The boundary between the two is 2900km below the surface of our planet, where the temperature drops by more than 1000 degrees from the core to the mantle.

The study has suggested that heavier iron isotopes are moving into the cooler temperatures of the mantle from the much hotter core, with lighter isotopes moving back down to the planet’s core.

This is leading researchers to believe the effect could cause core material entering the lowermost mantle to be enriched in heavy iron isotopes, highlighting a new discovery of how the core and mantle of our planet behave.

Charles Lesher, Professor Emeritus of Geology at UC Davis and professor of earth system petrology at Aarhus University in Denmark, told the findings will help people interpret seismic images of the deep mantle and allow modelling of the extent of the chemical and thermal transfer from deep inside the Earth to its surface.

“If correct, this stands to improve our understanding of core-mantle interaction,” Lesher said. “If true, the results suggest iron from the core has been leaking into the mantle for billions of years.”.

The research team also conducted computer simulations that displayed the core material can reach the Earth’s surface. Lava eruptions in oceans near Samoa and Hawaii were enriched in heavy isotopes.

The research was originally published April 6 in the Nature Geoscience journal

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