“It’s actually the confirmation that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth,” said Graham Pearson, lead study author and a geochemist at the University of Alberta in Canada. The findings were published today (March 12) in the journal Nature.
The worthless-looking diamond encloses a tiny piece of an olivine mineral called ringwoodite, and it’s the first time the mineral has been found on Earth’s surface in anything other than meteorites or laboratories. Ringwoodite only forms under extreme pressure, such as the crushing load about 320 miles (515 kilometers) deep in the mantle.
What’s in the mantle?
Most of Earth’s volume is mantle, the hot rock layer between the crust and the core. Too deep to drill, the mantle’s composition is a mystery leavened by two clues: meteorites, and hunks of rock heaved up by volcanoes. First, scientists think the composition of the Earth’s mantle is similar to that of meteorites called chondrites, which are chiefly made of olivine. Second, lava belched by volcanoes sometimes taps the mantle, bringing up chunks of odd minerals that hint at the intense heat and pressure olivine endures in the bowels of the Earth.
Earth’s deepest ocean
The diamond from Brazil confirms that the models are correct: Olivine is ringwoodite at this depth, a layer called the mantle transition zone. And it resolves a long-running debate about water in the mantletransition zone. The ringwoodite is 1.5 percent water, present not as a liquid but as hydroxide ions (oxygen and hydrogen molecules bound together). The results suggest there could be a vast store of water in the mantle transition zone, which stretches from 254 to 410 miles (410 to 660 km) deep.
“It translates into a very, very large mass of water, approaching the sort of mass of water that’s present in all the world’s ocean,” Pearson told Live Science’s Our Amazing Planet.
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