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The electrical conductivity during incipient melting in the oceanic low-velocity zone

Abstract : The low-viscosity layer in the upper mantle, the asthenosphere, is a requirement for plate tectonics1. The seismic low velocities and the high electrical conductivities of the asthenosphere are attributed either to subsolidus, water-related defects in olivine minerals2, 3, 4 or to a few volume per cent of partial melt5, 6, 7, 8, but these two interpretations have two shortcomings. First, the amount of water stored in olivine is not expected to be higher than 50 parts per million owing to partitioning with other mantle phases9 (including pargasite amphibole at moderate temperatures10) and partial melting at high temperatures9. Second, elevated melt volume fractions are impeded by the temperatures prevailing in the asthenosphere, which are too low, and by the melt mobility, which is high and can lead to gravitational segregation11, 12. Here we determine the electrical conductivity of carbon-dioxide-rich and water-rich melts, typically produced at the onset of mantle melting. Electrical conductivity increases modestly with moderate amounts of water and carbon dioxide, but it increases drastically once the carbon dioxide content exceeds six weight per cent in the melt. Incipient melts, long-expected to prevail in the asthenosphere10, 13, 14, 15, can therefore produce high electrical conductivities there. Taking into account variable degrees of depletion of the mantle in water and carbon dioxide, and their effect on the petrology of incipient melting, we calculated conductivity profiles across the asthenosphere for various tectonic plate ages. Several electrical discontinuities are predicted and match geophysical observations in a consistent petrological and geochemical framework. In moderately aged plates (more than five million years old), incipient melts probably trigger both the seismic low velocities and the high electrical conductivities in the upper part of the asthenosphere, whereas in young plates4, where seamount volcanism occurs6, a higher degree of melting is expected.
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Submitted on : Friday, May 16, 2014 - 3:54:01 PM
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David Sifré, Emmanuel Gardès, Malcolm Massuyeau, Leila Hashim, Saswata Hier-Majumder, et al.. The electrical conductivity during incipient melting in the oceanic low-velocity zone. Nature, Nature Publishing Group, 2014, 509, pp.81-85. ⟨10.1038/nature13245⟩. ⟨insu-00987388⟩



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