David Kohlstedt on Simulating the Mantle in the Lab
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The Earth’s tectonic plates float on top of the ductile portion of the Earth’s mantle called the asthenosphere. The properties of the asthenosphere, in particular its viscosity, are thought to play a key role in determining how plates move, subduct, and how melt is produced and accumulates. We would like to know what the viscosity of the the asthenosphere is, and how it depends on temperature, pressure, and the proportion of melt and water it contains. Few mantle rocks ever reach the Earth’s surface, and those that do are altered by weathering. So, as he explains in the podcast, David Kohlstedt and his team have tried to replicate the rock compositions and physical conditions of the mantle in the lab. Using specially-built apparatus, he has been able to determine the viscosity of the asthenosphere to within an order of magnitude, which is an enormous improvement on what was known before. David Kohlstedt is Professor Emeritus at the School of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Minnesota.
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