Thermal and compositional stratification of the inner core

Abstract : The improvements of the knowledge of the seismic structure of the inner core and the complexities thereby revealed ask for a dynamical origin. Sub-solidus convection was one of the early suggestions to explain the seismic anisotropy, but it requires an unstable density gradient either from thermal or compositional origin, or from both. Temperature and composition profiles in the inner core are computed using a unidimensional model of core evolution including diffusion in the inner core and fractional crystallisation at the inner core boundary (ICB). The thermal conductivity of the core has been recently revised upwardly and, moreover, found to increase with depth. Values of the heat flow across the core mantle boundary (CMB) sufficient to maintain convection in the whole outer core are not sufficient to make the temperature in the inner core super-isentropic and therefore prone to thermal instability. An unreasonably high CMB heat flow is necessary to this end. The compositional stratification results from a competition of the increase of the concentration of light elements in the outer core with inner core growth, which makes the inner core concentration also increase, and of the decrease of the liquidus, which makes the partition coefficient decrease as well as the concentration of light elements in the solid. While the latter (destabilizing) effect dominates at small inner core sizes, the former takes over for a large inner core. The turnover point is encountered for an inner core about half its current size in the case of S, but much larger for the case of O. The combined thermal and compositional buoyancy is stabilizing and solid-state convection in the inner core appears unlikely, unless an early double-diffusive instability can set in.
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Stéphane Labrosse. Thermal and compositional stratification of the inner core. Comptes Rendus Geoscience, 2014, 346, pp.119--129. ⟨10.1016/j.crte.2014.04.005⟩. ⟨hal-02351164⟩

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