Structure of a mushy layer at the inner core boundary
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
We present experimental results on the solidification of ammonium chloride from an aqueous solution, yielding a mushy zone, under hyper-gravity. A commercial centrifuge has been equipped with a slip-ring so that electric power, temperature and ultrasonic signals could be transmitted between the experimental setup and the laboratory. A Peltier element provides cooling at the bottom of the cell. Probes monitor the temperature along the height of the cell. Ultrasound measurements (2 to 6 MHz) is used to detect the position of the front of the mushy zone and to determine attenuation in the mush. A significant increase of solid fraction (or decrease of mushy layer thickness) and attenuation in the mush is observed as gravity is increased. Kinetic undercooling is significant in our experiments and has been included in a macroscopic mush model. The other ingredients of the model are conservation of energy and chemical species, along with heat/species transfer between the mush and the liquid phase: boundary-layer exchanges at the top of the mush and bulk convection within the mush (formation of chimneys). The outputs of the model compare well with our experiments. We have then run the model in a range of parameters suitable for the Earth's inner core, which has shown the role of bulk mush convection for the inner core and the reason why a solid fraction very close to unity should be expected. We have also run melting experiments: after crystallization of a mush, the liquid has been heated from above until the mush started to melt, while the bottom cold temperature was maintained. These melting experiments were motivated by the possible local melting at the inner core boundary that has been invoked to explain the formation of the anomalously slow F-layer at the bottom of the outer core or inner core hemispherical asymmetry. Oddly, the consequences of melting are an increase in solid fraction and a decrease in attenuation. It is hence possible that surface seismic velocity and attenuation of the inner core are strongly affected by melting.