This article reviews some of the recent advances made within the field of mineral physics. In order to link the observed seismic and density structures of the lower mantle with a particular mineral composition, knowledge of the thermodynamic properties of the candidate materials is required. Determining which compositional model best matches the observed data is difficult because of the wide variety of possible mineral structures and compositions. State-of-the-art experimental and analytical techniques have pushed forward our knowledge of mineral physics, yet certain properties, such as the elastic properties of lower mantle minerals at high pressures and temperatures, are difficult to determine experimentally and remain elusive. Fortunately, computational techniques are now sufficiently advanced to enable the prediction of these properties in a self-consistent manner, but more results are required.
A fundamental question is whether or not the upper and lower mantles are mixing. Traditional models that involve chemically separate upper and lower mantles cannot yet be ruled out despite recent conflicting seismological evidence showing that subducting slabs penetrate deep into the lower mantle and that chemically distinct layers are, therefore, unlikely.
Recent seismic tomography studies giving three-dimensional models of the seismic wave velocities in the Earth also base their interpretations on the thermodynamic properties of minerals. These studies reveal heterogeneous velocity and density anomalies in the lower mantle, which are difficult to reconcile with mineral physics data.
↵* Work carried out at Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK.
One contribution of 17 to a Triennial Issue ‘Astronomy and earth science’.
- © 2005 The Royal Society