Research ArticleEARTH SCIENCES

Compositional mantle layering revealed by slab stagnation at ~1000-km depth

Science Advances  10 Dec 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 11, e1500815
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500815

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Improved constraints on lower-mantle composition are fundamental to understand the accretion, differentiation, and thermochemical evolution of our planet. Cosmochemical arguments indicate that lower-mantle rocks may be enriched in Si relative to upper-mantle pyrolite, whereas seismic tomography images suggest whole-mantle convection and hence appear to imply efficient mantle mixing. This study reconciles cosmochemical and geophysical constraints using the stagnation of some slab segments at ~1000-km depth as the key observation. Through numerical modeling of subduction, we show that lower-mantle enrichment in intrinsically dense basaltic lithologies can render slabs neutrally buoyant in the uppermost lower mantle. Slab stagnation (at depths of ~660 and ~1000 km) and unimpeded slab sinking to great depths can coexist if the basalt fraction is ~8% higher in the lower mantle than in the upper mantle, equivalent to a lower-mantle Mg/Si of ~1.18. Global-scale geodynamic models demonstrate that such a moderate compositional gradient across the mantle can persist can in the presence of whole-mantle convection.

  • mantle convection
  • mantle composition
  • subducted slab
  • stagnant slab
  • bulk silicate Earth

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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