Mid-mantle heterogeneities and iron spin transition in the lower mantle: Implications for mid-mantle slab stagnation

M. H. Shahnas, D. A. Yuen, R. N. Pysklywec

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6 Scopus citations


Recent high pressure experimental results reveal that the elastic and transport properties of mantle materials are impacted by the electronic spin transition in iron under lower mantle pressure and temperature conditions. The electronic transition in ferropericlase (Fp), the second major constituent mineral of the lower mantle material, is associated with a smooth increase in density starting from the mid-mantle depth to the core–mantle boundary (CMB). The transition also yields softening in the elastic moduli and an increase in the thermal expansivity over the transition zone in the lower mantle. Although there is not yet robust experimental evidence for spin-transition induced density change in the perovskite (Pv) phase (the major constituent mineral in the lower mantle), the spin transition in the octahedral (B) site in Al-free perovskite causes a bulk modulus hardening (increase in the bulk modulus) in the mineral. We have incorporated these physical processes into high resolution 3D-spherical control volume models for mantle convection. A series of numerical experiments explore how the electronic spin transition in iron modifies the mantle flow, and in particular the fate of sinking cold slabs. Such mid-mantle stagnations are prevalent globally in seismic tomographic inversions, but previous explanations for their existence are not satisfactory. Employing density anomalies from the iron spin transition in ferropericlase and density anomaly models for perovskite, we study the influence of the spin transition in the minerals of the lower mantle on mantle flow. Our model results reveal that while the spin transition-induced property variations in ferropericlase enhance mixing in the lower depths of the mantle, the density anomaly arising from the hardening in the bulk modulus of Al-free perovskite can be effective in slowing the descent of slabs and may cause stagnation at mid-mantle levels. A viscosity hill in the lower mantle may further enhance the stagnation effect. Cold descending slabs can stall in the mid mantle for tens of million years or even longer before penetrating to the lower mantle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-304
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Jan 15 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
D.A. Yuen acknowledges supports from the Geochemistry program of National Science Foundation and CISE program. D.A. Yuen thanks M.V. Dehoop for stimulating discussions. R.N. Pysklywec acknowledges support from NSERC . We also thank R.M. Wentzcovitch for providing us spin transition-anomaly data for Fp.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • iron spin transition
  • mantle mixing
  • slab stagnation
  • solid–solid phase transition


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