The deep Earth may not be cooling down

  • Andrault D
  • Monteux J
  • Le Bars M
 et al. 
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The Earth is a thermal engine generating the fundamental processes of geomagnetic field, plate tectonics and volcanism. Large amounts of heat are permanently lost at the surface yielding the classic view of the deep Earth continuously cooling down. Contrary to this conventional depiction, we propose that the temperature profile in the deep Earth has remained almost constant for the last ~4.3 billion years. The core-mantle boundary (CMB) has reached a temperature of ~4400 K in probably less than 1 million years after the Moon-forming impact, regardless the initial core temperature. This temperature corresponds to an abrupt increase in mantle viscosity atop the CMB, when ~60% of partial crystallization was achieved, accompanied with a major decrease in heat flow at the CMB. Then, the deep Earth underwent a very slow cooling until it reached ~4100 K today. This temperature at, or just below, the mantle solidus is suggested by seismological evidence of ultra-low velocity zones in the D"-layer. Such a steady thermal state of the CMB temperature excludes thermal buoyancy from being the predominant mechanism to power the geodynamo over geological time. An alternative mechanism to sustain the geodynamo is mechanical forcing by tidal distortion and planetary precession. Motions in the outer core are generated by the conversion of gravitational and rotational energies of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. Mechanical forcing remains efficient to drive the geodynamo even for a sub-adiabatic temperature gradient in the outer core. Our thermal model of the deep Earth is compatible with an average CMB heat flow of 3.0 to 4.7 TW. Furthermore, the regime of core instabilities and/or secular changes in the astronomical forces could have supplied the lowermost mantle with a heat source of variable intensity through geological time. Episodic release of large amounts of heat could have remelted the lowermost mantle, thereby inducing the dramatic volcanic events that occurred during the Earth's history. In this scenario, because the Moon is a necessary ingredient to sustain the magnetic field, the habitability on Earth appears to require the existence of a large satellite.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Generation of the geomagnetic field
  • Secular cooling of the Earth
  • Temperature profile in the deep Earth

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