Improved P-wave Tomography of the Lowermost Mantle and Consequences for Mantle and Core Dynamics

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 11:35 AM
Hrvoje Tkalcic, Mallory K Young and Jack Broderick Muir, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
The core mantle boundary (CMB) separates the liquid iron core from the slowly-convecting solid mantle. The ~300 km thick barrier above the boundary has proven to be far more than a simple dividing layer; rather it is a complex region with a range of proposed phenomena such as thermal and compositional heterogeneity, partial melting and anisotropy. Characterizing the heterogeneity in the lowermost mantle through seismic tomography will prove crucial to accurately understanding key geodynamical processes within our planet, not just in the mantle above, but also a possible “mapping” onto the inner core boundary (ICB) through a thermochemical convection in the outer core, which in turn might control the growth of the inner core (e.g. Aubert et al., 2008; Gubbins et al., 2011). Here we obtain high-resolution compressional wave (P-wave) velocity images and uncertainty estimates for the lowermost mantle using travel time data collected by waveform cross-correlation. Strikingly, independent datasets of seismic phases that “see” the lowermost mantle in a different way yield similar P-wave velocity distributions at lower harmonic degrees. We also consider the effect of CMB topography. The images obtained are void of explicit model parameterization and regularization (through transdimensional Bayesian tomography) and contain features on multiple spatial scales. Subsequent spectral analyses reveal a power of heterogeneity three times larger than previous estimates. The P-wave tomograms of the lowermost mantle contain the harmonic degree 2-structure, similar to tomographic images derived from S-wave data (e.g. Ritsema et al. 2011), but with additional higher harmonic degrees (notably, 3-7). In other words, the heterogeneity size is uniformly distributed between about 500 and 6000 km. Inter alia, the resulting heterogeneity spectrum provides a bridge between the long-wavelength features of most global models and the very short-scale dimensions of scatterers mapped in independent studies. We argue that the new images of P-wave velocity in the lowermost mantle, void of explicit parameterization and damping, improve the imaging resolution and provide realistic boundary conditions at the CMB (due to a high sensitivity to heat flux) with important consequences for Earth dynamics.