Anisotropic diffusion creep in postperovskite provides a new model for deformation at the core-mantle boundary

David P. Dobson, Alexander Lindsay-Scott, Simon Hunt, Edward Bailey, Ian Wood, John Brodholt, Lidunka Vocadlo, John Wheeler

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The lowermost portion of Earth’s mantle (D″) above the core−mantle boundary shows anomalous seismic features, such as strong seismic anisotropy, related to the properties of the main mineral MgSiO3 postperovskite. But, after over a decade of investigations, the seismic observations still cannot be explained simply by flow models which assume dislocation creep in postperovskite. We have investigated the chemical diffusivity of perovskite and postperovskite phases by experiment and ab initio simulation, and derive equations for the observed anisotropic diffusion creep. There is excellent agreement between experiments and simulations for both phases in all of the chemical systems studied. Single-crystal diffusivity in postperovskite displays at least 3 orders of magnitude of anisotropy by experiment and simulation (Da = 1,000 Db; Db ≈ Dc) in zinc fluoride, and an even more extreme anisotropy is predicted (Da = 10,000 Dc; Dc = 10,000 Db) in the natural MgSiO3 system. Anisotropic chemical diffusivity results in anisotropic diffusion creep, texture generation, and a strain-weakening rheology. The results for MgSiO3 postperovskite strongly imply that regions within the D″ region of Earth dominated by postperovskite will 1) be substantially weaker than regions dominated by perovskite and 2) develop a strain-induced crystallographic-preferred orientation with strain-weakening rheology. This leads to strain localization and the possibility to bring regions with significantly varying textures into close proximity by strain on narrow shear zones. Anisotropic diffusion creep therefore provides an attractive alternative explanation for the complexity in observed seismic anisotropy and the rapid lateral changes in seismic velocities in D″.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26389-26393
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
Early online date11 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2019


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