Earth's Core: We Now Have An Idea of What Is Down There

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Structures made of hot, dense materials that wrap around the core of our planet are much more common than previous studies suggest.
According to a study published in Science magazine, geophysicists at the University of Maryland were able to analyze thousands of earthquake data to locate echoes from the boundary between the molten earth's core and the overlying solid mantle.
The echoes showed much larger heterogeneous structures at the core-mantle boundary than previously known.
Scientists are unsure of the composition of these structures - it could be magma or even molten iron leaking from the core. However, a better understanding of what actually surrounds the core can help uncover deep geological processes and gain a deep insight into plate tectonics and the evolution of our planet.
The core boundary is about 1,800 miles below the earth's surface. At this colossal distance, studying earthquakes is one of the few ways to find out what's going on inside the planet.
For this particular study, the researchers focused on echoes of seismic waves that spread beneath the Pacific Ocean basin. The data showed a hitherto unknown structure among the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific and showed that the structure under the Hawaii Islands is much larger than previously thought.
"By looking at thousands of Grenochos between the core and the mantle at the same time, rather than focusing on some as usual, we have a whole new perspective," said the lead author of the study, Doyeon Kim, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geology at the University of Maryland said in a press release.
"This shows us that the core-mantle border region has many structures that can generate these echoes, and we didn't recognize that before because we only had a narrow view."
Using a machine learning algorithm called a sequencer, the researchers analyzed 7,000 seismograms from hundreds of magnitude 6.5 or higher earthquakes, all of which occurred around the Pacific Basin from 1990 to 2018.
"We found echoes on about 40% of all seismic wave paths," said study co-author Vedran Lekic, an associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland, in a press release.
"It was surprising because we expected them to be rarer, and that means the anomalous structures at the core-mantle boundary are much more common than previously thought."
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based science and technology editor who has contributed to Google, The Korea Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow him or contact him on LinkedIn.
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