How flat is the lower-mantle temperature gradient?

Marc Monnereau, David A. Yuen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The temperature gradient in the lower mantle is fundamental in prescribing many transport properties, such as the viscosity, thermal conductivity and electrical conductivity. The adiabatic temperature gradient is commonly employed for estimating these transport properties in the lower mantle. We have carried out a series of high-resolution 3-D anelastic compressible convections in a spherical shell with the PREM seismic model as the background density and bulk modulus and the thermal expansivity decreasing with depth. Our purpose was to assess how close under realistic conditions the horizontally averaged thermal gradient would lie to the adiabatic gradient derived from the convection model. These models all have an endothermic phase change at 660 km depth with a Clapeyron slope of around -3 MPa K-1, uniform internal heating and a viscosity increase of 30 across the phase transition. The global Rayleigh number for basal heating is around 2 × 106, while an internal heating Rayleigh number as high as 108 has been employed. The pattern of convection is generally partially layered with a jump of the geotherm across the phase change of at most 300 K. In all thermally equilibrated situations the geothermal gradients in the lower mantle are small, around 0.1 K km-1, and are subadiabatic. Such a low gradient would produce a high peak in the lower-mantle viscosity, if the temperature is substituted into a recently proposed rheological law in the lower mantle. Although the endothermic phase transition may only cause partial layering in the present-day mantle, its presence can exert a profound influence on the state of adiabaticity over the entire mantle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-183
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 30 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Danny Yamazaki, Shun Karato and Fabien Dubuffet for helpful discussions and Radek Matyska for collaborative efforts in Bullen’s parameter. Furthermore, we gratefully acknowledge Laszlo Czerepes and Arie van den Berg for their helpful reviews. This work has been supported by both French I.N.S.U. and the National Science Foundation. Computational resources have been provided by the CNES (French space agency) and by the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute. [AC]


  • Convection
  • Geothermal gradient
  • Mantle
  • Spherical models
  • Temperature


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