Eos, Vol. 90, No. 3, 20 January 2009
2007]); and with carbon and hydrogen hav-ing major drawbacks due to their high vol-atility, which could have resulted in their loss during the ormation o the planet. Cur-rent mineral physics results urther indicatethat a combination o silicon, oxygen, andpossibly sulur or carbon is needed to sat-isy all o the aorementioned constraintssimultaneously.
Structure of Iron and Its Alloys
Iron crystallizes in the bcc structure under ambient conditions. In the 1960s, high- pressure X-ray diraction revealed the exis-tence o hcp iron at pressures above approxi-mately 10 gigapascals (Figure 2). Since then,hcp iron has been ound to be stable over awide range o pressures and temperaturesapproaching the suspected core conditions.The layered structure o iron can result invarious stacking polymorphs such as theace-centered cubic (cc) phase, in which thethree most closely packed layers stack alter-nately along a crystallographic direction atabove 1200 K and room pressure. While hcpiron is the “holy grail” o the core, consider-able research attention has been paid to thebehavior o iron/nickel/light element alloysat high pressures and temperatures. In par-ticular, the addition o nickel to iron has beenound to stabilize the cc phase with respectto the hcp phase to higher pressures. Theextrapolation o the hcp-cc phase bound-ary, nevertheless, indicates that iron with10–15% nickel at inner core conditions (pres-sure above 330 gigapascals and temperatureabove approximately 4500 K) is likely stablein the hcp structure.A phase transition o solid hcp iron atcore conditions was frst proposed usingdynamic shock wave results, whereas recenttheoretical calculations suggest that hcpiron transorms into bcc iron at conditionsclose to the melting point o iron at corepressures (Figure 2) [
Voadlo et al.
Belonoshko et al.
, 2008]. To the surprise omineral physicists, as they generally expectto fnd the densest structures at the crush-ing pressures o the core, bcc iron with10% nickel alloy (which is not the denseststructure) was recently observed at above225 gigapascals and 3400 K [
, 2007]. The addition o a light elementsuch as silicon to iron appears to stabilizethe bcc iron alloy to much higher pressuresand temperatures. These surprising observa-tions on the existence o bcc iron alloys indi-cate that the inner core could be a mixtureo hcp and bcc iron alloys, instead o thehcp phase alone.
Sound Velocities and Seismic Anisotropy
One o the most ascinating seismic obser-vations lies in the inner core anisotropy: Seis-mic waves travel 3–4% aster along the polar axis o the Earth’s core than in the equato-rial direction. While a number o hypoth-eses have been proposed to explain theanisotropy, the general consensus is that theanisotropy is due to the preerred orientationo the iron crystals. Indeed, hcp iron displaysstrong lattice-preerred orientation with itscrystallographic c axis parallel to the com-pression axis o the high-pressure diamondanvil cell as a result o plastic basal slip. Fur-thermore, experimental measurements andab initio fnite temperature molecular dynam-ics simulations show that the maximum dier-ence in compressional wave velocity o hcpiron is 4–6% at megabar pressures [
Antonan- geli et al.
, 2007]. However, thesimulation o sound wave propagation in thematerial by means o the molecular dynam-ics [
Belonoshko et al.
, 2008] showed that elas-tic anisotropy o hcp iron rapidly decreaseswith increasing temperature at inner corepressures.To account or the overall 3–4% seismicanisotropy in the inner core, a predomi-nant amount o the hcp iron has to be pre-erentially aligned, suggesting the existenceo a gigantic iron crystal in the inner core.Because single-crystal bcc iron exhibits upto 12% anisotropy in the compressional wavevelocity in theoretical simulations under inner core conditions [
Belonoshko et al.
,2008], the predicted anisotropy o bcc ironwould be sufcient to explain the seismicanisotropy o the inner core. The predictedtransition rom hcp to bcc iron may explainthe variation in seismic anisotropy rom theuppermost layer toward the inner layer o theinner core.Because laboratory-measured sound veloc-ities o iron alloys generally ollow a linear compressional velocity-density relation, tra-ditionally called Birch’s law, linear extrapo-lation and interpolation using sound veloc-ity/density lines o candidate iron alloys arecommonly used to estimate the amount olight elements in the core without consideringhigh-temperature eect. Theoretical calcula-tions suggest that Birch’s law is probably valideven at high temperature [
, 2007]. It isexperimentally ound, however, that high tem-perature can aect the velocity-density lineo hcp iron at high pressures, indicating thathigh-pressure/high-temperature results areneeded to reliably interpret seismic observa-tions [
Lin et al.
One o the major uncertainties in mod-ern geophysics is the temperature profleo the core, inormation undamental or understanding the heat budget, thermal his-tory, and geodynamics o the Earth’s inte-rior. The solidifcation o iron alloys at theinner core/outer core boundary provides a
Fig. 2. Representative phase diagram of iron and iron-nickel alloys at high pressures and temperatures. The hcp iron is stable over a wide range of pressures and temperatures, whilebcc iron is predicted to exist in the inner core (blue dashed line) and bcc iron with 10%nickel alloy is experimentally observed at 225 gigapascals and 3400 K (blue hexagon).Melting curves of iron measured from shock waves (red diamonds) are much higher thanstatic diamond cell results (black dashed line). Shaded area indicates current survey of themelting temperatures of iron at core pressures; inset shows hcp iron with 10% nickel alloy at 195 gigapascals and 2150 K.