Ferropericlase Control of Lower Mantle Rheology: Impact of Phase Morphology


Abstract The rheological properties of Earth’s lower mantle play a key role for global mantle dynamics. The mineralogy of the lower mantle can be approximated as a bridgmanite-ferropericlase mixture. Previous work has suggested that the deformation of this mixture might be dramatically affected by the large differences in viscosity between bridgmanite and ferropericlase. Here, we employ numerical models to establish a connection between ferropericlase morphology and the effective rheology of the Earth’s lower mantle using a numerical-statistical approach. Using this approach, we link the statistical properties of the two-phase composite to its effective viscosity tensor using analytical approximations. We find that ferropericlase develops elongated structures within the bridgmanite matrix that result in significantly lowered viscosity. While our findings confirm previous endmember models that suggested a change of mantle viscosity due to the formation of interconnected weak layers, we show that significant rheological weakening can thus be already achieved even when ferropericlase does not form an interconnected network. Additionally, the alignment of weak ferropericlase leads to a pronounced viscous anisotropy that develops with total strain, which may have implications for understanding the viscosity structure of Earth’s lower mantle as well as for modeling the behavior of subducting slabs. We show that to capture the effect of ferropericlase elongation on the effective viscosity tensor (and its anisotropy) in large-scale mantle convection models, the analytical approximations that have been derived to describe the evolution of the effective viscosity of a two-phase medium with aligned elliptical inclusions can be used.

Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems