Seismic anisotropy of pyrolite in the Earth’s lower mantle

Depth Dependent Deformation and Anisotropy of Pyrolite in the Earth's Lower MantleYet another publication from the TIMEleSS team! Former TIMEleSS PhD student Jeff Gay has a new paper entitled Depth Dependent Deformation and Anisotropy of Pyrolite in the Earth’s Lower Mantle in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

Seismologists rely on observable data to construct models that describe the dynamic state of the Earth’s lower mantle. These models, however, require constraints such as mantle composition and material behavior at high pressures and temperatures, which can be provided through experimental mineral physics.

In this study, we use a high pressure devices and X-rays to impose deformation and image the state of our sample with increasing pressure and temperature. We are able to extract information of individual mineral grains within our assemblage, such as the number of grains per phase and their orientations.

Using this experimental data, we identify three regimes of grain orientations in bridgmanite in the lower mantle, corresponding to

  1. transformation from lower pressure phases,
  2. deformation below ~50 GPa,
  3. deformation above ~50 GPa.

With this information, we are able to make predictions about how seismic waves travel and behave based on the deformation state of the lower mantle.

Pressure-dependent large-scale seismic anisotropy induced by non-Newtonian mantle flow

Pressure-dependent large-scale seismic anisotropy induced by non-Newtonian mantle flowFormer TIMEleSS post-doc John Keith Magali has a new publication: Pressure-dependent large-scale seismic anisotropy induced by non-Newtonian mantle flow. The work was published in May 2024 in Geophysical Journal International.

In this work, John combines the team expertise in both mineral microstructures and seismic measurements to make predictions of seismic anisotropy development induced by mantle flow. In fact, observations of large-scale seismic anisotropy can be used as a marker for past and current deformation in the Earth’s mantle. Nonetheless, global features such as the decrease of the strength of anisotropy between ∼150 and 410 km in the upper mantle and weaker anisotropy observations in the transition zone remain ill-understood.

In this work, we integrate pressure-dependent microscopic flow properties in mantle minerals particularly olivine and wadsleyite into geodynamic simulations, compute the crystallographic preferred orientation and anisotropy in the upper mantle and upper transition zone, and apply a tomographic filter that accounts for finite-frequency seismic data, with the aim of providing mantle models comparable with seismic tomography observations.

Our results show that anisotropy observations in the upper mantle can be well understood by introducing gradual shifts in strain accommodation mechanism with increasing depths induced by a pressure-dependent plasticity model in olivine. Across the upper transition zone, our models predict reasonably low anisotropy, in agreement with observations.

These calculations show that, despite the relatively primitive geodynamic setup, models of plate-driven corner flows can be sufficient in explaining first-order observations of mantle seismic anisotropy. This requires, however, incorporating the effect of pressure on mineralogy and mineral plasticity models.

New publication in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

Deformation Mechanisms, Microstructures, and Seismic Anisotropy of Wadsleyite in the Earth’s Transition ZoneFormer TIMEleSS student Estelle Ledoux is the first author of Deformation Mechanisms, Microstructures, and Seismic Anisotropy of Wadsleyite in the Earth’s Transition Zone, published in gold open-access in AGU’s Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

Rocks deep inside the Earth mantle are deforming plastically under the effect of mantle convection. In return, the way minerals accommodate deformation impacts the properties of the whole rock and controls mantle flow. The deformation mechanisms of upper mantle minerals have been studied extensively. The behavior of minerals found deeper in the Earth, however, still remains debated and poorly understood.

Wadsleyite is the high pressure polymorph of olivine and the major phase of the upper part of the mantle transition zone (MTZ) (at 410–520 km depth) and then is suspected to control the deformation of that region of the mantle. Investigations of deformation mechanisms in wadsleyite have been scarce and only made recently possible with in-situ measurements at relevant pressure and temperature.

Here, using in-situ deformation experiments, multigrain X-ray crystallography, literature results, and numerical simulations, we propose a new view of plastic deformation of wadsleyite in the Earth’s MTZ. We show that it will be strongly affected by both temperature and water content. We then provide models that could be used for the seismic detection of its anisotropic behavior and mapping mantle flow using seismic measurements.

Congratulations Estelle!

New publication in Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Gay et al, Transformation microstructures in pyrolite under stress: Implications for anisotropy in subducting slabs below the 660 km discontinuity (2023) Earth and Planetary Science LettersNew year, and new publication for the TIMEleSS team! Former timeless PhD student Jeff Gay is the first author of Transformation microstructures in pyrolite under stress: Implications for anisotropy in subducting slabs below the 660 km discontinuity, published in the February 15, 2023, issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The publication is a result of a collaboration between partners at the Université de Lille (J. Gay, E. Ledoux, J. Chantel, S. Merkel), WWU Münster (N. Krug, C. Sanchez-Valle) with measurements at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (A. Pakhomova, H.-P. Liermann).

The ‘660’ discontinuity marks the boundary between the upper and lower mantle and is located 660 km below our feet. The is discontinuity often associated with a phase transitions in pyrolite, a model rock composition for the Earth’s mantle. In addition, there are ubiquitous reports of seismic anisotropy below the ‘660’ which are difficult to explain from a mineralogical point of view.

In this study, we implement multigrain crystallography X-ray diffraction in the laser-heated diamond anvil cell in order to track microstructures induced by phase transitions at the pressure and temperature conditions of the discontinuity, around 24 GPa and 1900 K. Before the onset of transformation, pyrolite minerals such as garnet and ringwoodite are isotropic and do not contribute to seismic anisotropy.  After the transformation, bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in the Earth, displays a strong preferred orientation, which we attribute to growth under stress. Other minerals such as davemaoite and ferropericlase are also considered.

The results are used to model anisotropy in a subducting slab, with a prediction of no anisotropy above the ‘660’ and up to 1.28% (0.08 km/s) shear wave splitting below the ‘660’ and provide details on how detailed wave forms can be used to understand the geometry of stress at those depths.