June 18, 2009

Earth’s iron isotope distribution studied

U.S. scientists have used a supercomputer to calculate the iron isotope distribution in Earth's mantle that occurred 4.5 billion years ago.

University of California-Davis geochemists said they simulated the conditions that would have existed when the Earth crystallized from an ocean of magma to its solid form, producing the first picture of how different isotopes of iron were initially distributed in the solid Earth.

The scientists said their research could result in a wave of investigations into the evolution of Earth's mantle -- a layer of material about 1,800 miles deep that extends from just beneath the planet's thin crust to its metallic core.

Now that we have some idea of how these isotopes of iron were originally distributed on Earth, Professor James Rustad, the study's senior author, said. We should be able to use the isotopes to trace the inner workings of Earth's engine.

A paper describing the study by Rustad and Associate Professor Qing-zhu Yin appears in the online issue of the journal Nature Geoscience in advance of print publication in July.