Seismological Constraints on Earth's Deep Water Cycle

Suzan Van Der Lee*, Douglas A. Wiens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


Water can be present in the mantle in the form of hydrous melts, hydrous phases, or incorporated into the crystal structure of nominally anhydrous minerals of the major mantle mineralogy. The first two forms are likely in the uppermost mantle, where water solubility in major mantle minerals is low, whereas the latter form may be more important deeper in the upper mantle and transition zone. Seismological data contain unique and valuable information on the amount and distribution of water in the Earth's mantle. It is, however, challenging to extract this information because of limitations in the amount and density of available seismic data, multiple interpretations of similar observations, and limited quantification of the effects of water and other parameters on the seismic properties. While increased water content and elevated temperatures both lower seismic velocities, they have opposing effects on the depths of the discontinuities that bound the transition zone. And, while they both increase attenuation, they have opposing effects on the sharpness of these discontinuities. Independent geophysical observations, such a gravity, electrical conductivity, and surface heat flow, can further help to discriminate between temperature, water, and other compositional anomalies as the cause of observed seismic heterogeneity. Various types of observations have been combined to infer water content in the mantle, ranging from a few hundredths of weight percent to several weight percent. Altogether, the seismological literature suggests that the mantle is heterogeneously hydrated. However, with the limited studies available, there does not appear to be an obvious correlation between present tectonic environment and water content, though the literature shows a tendency to interpret inferred anomalously hydrous regions in the mid mantle as being related in one way or another to past subduction of oceanic lithosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEarth's Deep Water Cycle
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781118666487
ISBN (Print)0875904335, 9780875904337
StatePublished - Mar 19 2013


  • Earth-Mantle
  • Geodynamics
  • Geology, Structural
  • Groundwater
  • Hydrologic cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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