Controlling thermal chaos in the mantle by positive feedback from radiative thermal conductivity

F. Dubuffet, D. A. Yuen, E. S.G. Rainey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The thermal conductivity of mantle materials has two components, the lattice component klat from phonons and the radiative component krad due to photons. These two contributions of variable thermal conductivity have a nonlinear dependence in the temperature, thus endowing the temperature equation in mantle convection with a strongly non-linear character. The temperature derivatives of these two mechanisms have different signs, with ∂klat/ ∂T negative and dkrad/dT positive. This offers the possibility for the radiative conductivity to control the chaotic boundary layer instabilities developed in the deep mantle. We have parameterized the weight factor between krad and klat with a dimensionless parameter f, where f = 1 corresponds to the reference conductivity model. We have carried out two-dimensional, time-dependent calculations for variable thermal conductivity but constant viscosity in an aspect-ratio 6 box for surface Rayleigh numbers between 106 and 5 × 106. The averaged Péclet <Pe> numbers of these flows lie between 200 and 2000. Along the boundary in f separating the chaotic and steady-state solutions, the <Pe> number decreases and the Nusselt number increases with internal heating, illustrating the feedback between internal heating and radiative thermal conductivity. For purely basal heating situation, the time-dependent chaotic flows become stabilized for values of f of between 1.5 and 2. The bottom thermal boundary layer thickens and the surface heat flow increases with larger amounts of radiative conductivity. For magnitudes of internal heating characteristic of a chondritic mantle, much larger values of f, exceeding 10, are required to quench the bottom boundary layer instabilities. By isolating the individual conductive mechanisms, we have ascertained that the lattice conductivity is partly responsible for inducing boundary layer instabilities, while the radiative conductivity and purely depth-dependent conductivity exert a stabilizing influence and help to control thermal chaos developed in the deep mantle. These results have been verified to exist also in three-dimensional geometry and would argue for the need to consider the potentially important role played by radiative thermal conductivity in controlling chaotic flows in time-dependent mantle convection, the mantle heat transfer, the number of hotspots and the attendant mixing of geochemical anomalies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-323
Number of pages13
JournalNonlinear Processes in Geophysics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2002

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