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Structure of a mushy layer under hypergravity with implications for Earth's inner core

Abstract : Crystallization experiments in the dendritic regime have been carried out in hypergravity conditions (from 1 to 1300 g) from an ammonium chloride solution (NH4Cl and H2O). A commercial centrifuge was equipped with a slip ring so that electric power (needed for a Peltier device and a heating element), temperature and ultrasonic signals could be transmitted between the experimental setup and the laboratory. Ultrasound measurements (2-6 MHz) were used to detect the position of the front of the mushy zone and to determine attenuation in the mush. Temperature measurements were used to control a Peltier element extracting heat from the bottom of the setup and to monitor the evolution of crystallization in the mush and in the liquid. A significant increase of solid fraction 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. This 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.
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Ludovic Huguet, Thierry Alboussiere, Michael I. Bergman, Renaud Deguen, Stephane Labrosse, et al.. Structure of a mushy layer under hypergravity with implications for Earth's inner core. Geophysical Journal International, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2016, 204 (3), pp.1729-1755. ⟨10.1093/gji/ggv554⟩. ⟨hal-02331124⟩



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