Lower mantle composition and temperature from mineral physics and thermodynamic modelling

Estelle Mattern, Jan Matas, Y. Ricard, J. Bass

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A generalized inverse method is applied to infer the radial lower mantle composition and temperature profile from seismological models of density and bulk sound velocity. The computations are performed for a five-component system, MgO-FeO-CaO-Al2O3-SiO2 and three phases: (Mg,Fe,Al)(Si,Al)O3 perovskite, (Mg,Fe)O magnesiowustite, and CaSiO3 perovskite. A detailed review of the elasticity data set used to compute the elastic properties of mineral assemblages is given. We consider three different a priori compositional models-pyrolite, chondritic and a model based on cosmic abundances of elements-as a priori knowledge for the inversions in order to investigate the sensitivity of any given best-fit solution to the assumed initial composition. Consistent features in all inversions, independent of the a priori model, are a total iron content of XFe ? 0.10 ± 0.06 and a subadiabatic temperature gradient over most of the lower mantle depth range. A peculiar correlated behaviour of the two most sensitive parameters (iron content and temperature) is found below the 660 km discontinuity: over the depth range from 660 km down to 1300 km. Significantly, we find that the bulk composition inferred from any given inversion is strongly dependent on the choice of a priori model. Equally satisfactory fits to the lower mantle bulk sound velocity and density profiles can be obtained using any of the a priori models. However, the thermal structure associated with these compositional models differs significantly. Pyrolite yields a relatively cool geotherm (T660 ? 1800 K and XPv ? 0.64), while perovskite-rich models such as chondritic or cosmic models yield hot geotherms (T660 ? 2500 K and XPv ? 0.84 for the latter), but all of the geotherms are subadiabatic. The results of inversions are virtually unaffected by the partitioning of iron between perovskite and magnesiowustite. Out of the five oxide components considered in our models, the bulk Al2O3 and CaO contents of the mineral assemblages are least well constrained from our inversions. Our results show that a major shortcoming of lower mantle compositional and thermal models based on inversions of bulk sound velocity and density is the strong dependence of the final solution on the a priori model, That is, a wide variety of best-fit compositional and thermal models can be obtained, all of which provide satisfactory fits to global average seismic models. It is, in fact, this non-uniqueness that dominates the resulting a posteriori uncertainties and prevents a clear discrimination between different compositional models. Independent constraints on the thermal structure or on the shear properties of lower mantle assemblages are needed to infer lower mantle composition with a higher degree of certainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-990
Number of pages18
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005


  • Bulk modulus
  • Density
  • Inverse problem
  • Mantle
  • Mineralogy
  • Seismic velocities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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