Water Leaking into Earth’s Core May Have Created a Mysterious Layer That Moves out Crystals

Scientists recently discovered the cause of a strange crystal-forming layer that encompasses the Earth’s core. In a recent finding, researchers suggest that water leaking into the Earth’s core may have reacted with our planet’s metallic heart. Researchers in the 1990s discovered that a thin layer is surrounding Earth’s outer core.

This thin layer is a swirling ocean of liquid metal that encompasses the solid inner core. The layer named the E-prime layer, or E’ layer exceeds more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) thick. However, it is slim when compared with other parts of Earth’s inner region. The layer sits around 1,800 miles (2,900 km) below Earth’s Surface.

Researchers initially theorized that the E’ layer came into existence by ancient iron-rich magma. However, other theories suggest that it leaked out of the inner core, or it likely formed during Earth’s collision with a protoplanet that created the moon and deposited chunks of the baby world that exists inside our home planet.

However, none of these theories have been generally accepted by scientists across the globe. On Nov. 13, a group of researchers published a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggesting that the E’layer was possibly created by water that leaks down to the Earth’s interior through sinking, subducting, and tectonic plates, before reacting with the outer core’s metallic surface.

“For years, it has been believed that material exchange between Earth’s core and mantle is small,” study co-author Dan Shim, a geoscientist at Arizona State University, said in a statement. But these discoveries “point to a far more dynamic core-mantle interaction, suggesting substantial material exchange.”

How The New Study of Water leaking into Earth’s core Will Change Our Understanding of Earth’s Inner Core

If the discovery is accurate, it means that the E’ layer has generated massive quantities of silica crystals over time. These silica crystals came into existence as a byproduct of the reaction. Scientists revealed that this byproduct has been fed into the mantle. Note that the mantle is a large layer of magma sitting between the outer core and Earth’s outer crust.

To confirm this study, scientists carried out several experiments in the laboratory trying to replicate how water could react with the outer core under intense pressure. The outcome of the study showed that the hydrogen from the water could replace the silica within the liquid metal.

This could potentially force the silica out of the metal as crystals. Hence, the E’ layer may be a hydrogen-rich and silica-depleted layer of the outer core. This latest study generally opposes the previous theories about the composition of the E’ layer. The team behind this study suggests that it took more than 1 billion years for the E’ layer to acquire its current level of thickness.

Scientists believe that the inner core solidified around 1 billion years ago. This implies that it could be much older than the inner core itself. The latest discovery is a sign that we still have a lot to learn about the outer core and mantle.

The same research team that made the latest discovery also discovered that water leaking into Earth’s core may be reacting with massive reservoirs of carbon in the outer core in September 2022. This reaction creates massive diamond factories close to the core-mantel boundary.

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