3-D computer models aid research of Earth's core

The work of a University of Alaska Fairbanks post-doctoral fellow will be included in an article appearing in the upcoming issue of the journal, Science.

The article reveals that scientists are now able to directly measure heat that moves from the molten metal of Earth’s core into a region at the base of the mantle, a boundary located halfway to Earth’s center, about 1,740 miles deep. Measuring heat deep inside the earth is important because the intense temperatures drive processes like the movement of tectonic plates.

For his contribution to the research, Michael S. Thorne, who holds a dual appointment with the Geophysical Institute and the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center (ARSC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, created 3-dimensional simulations of earthquakes, allowing scientists to see how seismic waves travel through the earth. These simulations are able to predict ground motion on earth’s surface producing what is known as synthetic seismograms. The simulations of wave behavior assist scientists as they identify how material is moving inside the earth, specifically at the core-mantle boundary deep beneath the Pacific plate.

Thorne put in an impressive 70,000 computing hours on the ARSC IBM supercomputer, “Iceberg,” for this project.

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Michael S. Thorne’s co-authors for “Core-mantle boundary heat flux and postperovskite beneath the Pacific” are Thorne Lay, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, John Hernlund of the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, and Edward Garnero of Arizona State University.

Thorne’s accomplishment is significant. Competition to publish in Science, the widely circulated, highly cited journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is intense. The journal has an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent of all submitted articles.


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