While most of-us take the ground beneath our feet for granted, written within its complex layers like pages of a book, is Earth’s history. Our history.
Now researchers found more evidence for an entire new chapter deep within Earth’s past. Earth’s inner core appears to have another even-more inner core within it.
“Traditionally we have been taught Earth’s crust has 4 main layers: the crust, the mantle, the outer core & the inner core,” explained Australian National University geophysicist, Joanne Stephenson.
Our knowledge of what lies beneath Earth’s crust has been inferred mostly from what volcanoes divulged & seismic waves have whispered.
From these indirect observations, scientists calculated that the scorchingly hot inner core, with temperatures surpassing 5000 degrees Celsius (9000 Fahrenheit), makes-up just one percent of Earth’s total volume.
Now Stephenson & colleagues have found more evidence Earth’s inner core may have 2 distinct layers.
“It’s very exciting and might mean we’ve to rewrite the textbooks!” she added.
The team used a search algorithm to trawl through, and match thousands of models of the inner core with observed data across many decades about how long seismic waves take to travel through Earth, gathered-by the International Seismological Centre.
So, what’s down there? The team looked at some models of the inner core’s anisotropy, how differences in the makes up of its material alters the properties of seismic waves, and found some were more likely than others.
While some models think material of the inner core channels seismic waves faster parallel to the equator, others argue the mixture of materials allows for faster waves more parallel to Earth’s rotational axis. Even then, there are arguments about the exact degree of difference at certain-angles.
This study failed to show much-variation with depth in the inner core, but find, there was a change in the slow direction to a 54-degree angle, with the faster direction of waves running parallel to the axis.
“We found evidence that-may indicate a change in the structure of iron, which suggests perhaps two separate cooling-events in Earth’s history,” Stephenson said.
“The details of this big event are still a little of a mystery, but we have added another piece of the puzzle when it comes-to our knowledge of the Earths’ inner core.”
These new findings may explain, why some experimental evidence has been inconsistent with our current-models of Earth’s structure.
The presence of an inner-most layer has been suspected for sometime now, with hints that iron crystals which compose the inner-core have different structural alignments.
“We are limited-by the distribution of global earthquakes & receivers, especially at polar antipodes,” the team wrote in their paper, explaining the missing-data decreases the certainty of their conclusions. But their conclusions align with other recent studies on the anisotropy of the inner-most inner core.
A new method currently under development may soon fill in some of these data-gaps and permit scientists to corroborate or contradict their findings, and hopefully translate more stories written within this early layer of Earth’s history.
This research was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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