Unexpected structures near the Earth’s core are detected

After analyzing thousands of records of seismic waves, geophysicists at the University of Maryland, United States, detected the presence of generalized and heterogeneous structures near the planet’s core, unknown until now. They are supposedly extensive areas of dense, extremely hot rocks below the Earth’s mantle.

Although we still don’t know the exact composition of the discovery, understanding the shape and extent of these elements can help to clarify the geological processes that occur inside the Earth, as well as provide clues about the functioning of tectonic plates and the evolution of our home in the Universe. .

The study was published in the journal science and provides the first high-resolution overview of the Earth’s mantle. Focusing on the Pacific Ocean basin, the analysis brought to light something under the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia much larger than expected. Doyeon Kim, the researcher responsible for the publication, celebrates: “By focusing on thousands of elements, instead of a few, as is normally done, we have a whole new perspective.”

New approach and new tools

Earthquakes are known to generate seismic waves below the surface and they travel thousands of kilometers. When they collide with rocks of different temperatures or compositions, they change their speed, bend or even disperse. These are the echoes analyzed by researchers, who measure such characteristics with seismometers, specific equipment for this purpose.

From the information collected, it is possible to create models that reveal different properties of the Earth’s interior. Doyeon Kim and his team focused on a specific type of wave, the shear wave, which is lateral, with a movement perpendicular to the direction of the force that generated it. Normally, it runs through the limits of the Earth’s mantle and is hardly identifiable. However, with a broader perspective, such as that adopted by scientists, similarities and patterns were discovered.

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Technology, of course, was fundamental in the research, as an algorithm called Sequencer, developed for space studies, was applied to records covering a period from 1990 to 2018. “The use of machine learning in earth science is growing rapidly. that a method like the one we apply allows us to identify seismic wave echoes and reach new conclusions about the base of the mantle, extremely enigmatic for us”.

the earth does not stop

With the results, the researchers found ultra-low velocity zones (ULVZs) below Hawaii much larger than those identified so far. Such zones are found in volcanic areas, where hot rocks rise from the main mantle boundary region to produce islands. “This was surprising as we expected them to be rarer, which means these structures are much more extensive than we thought,” says Doyeon.

The scientist concludes: “It is incredible because it shows that the Sequencer can help us to contextualize data from around the world in a way that has never been seen before in history”.

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