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Nature. 2000 Jun 29;405(6790):1044-7.

The plastic deformation of iron at pressures of the Earth's inner core

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Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of California, Berkeley 94720, USA.


Soon after the discovery of seismic anisotropy in the Earth's inner core, it was suggested that crystal alignment attained during deformation might be responsible. Since then, several other mechanisms have been proposed to account for the observed anisotropy, but the lack of deformation experiments performed at the extreme pressure conditions corresponding to the solid inner core has limited our ability to determine which deformation mechanism applies to this region of the Earth. Here we determine directly the elastic and plastic deformation mechanism of iron at pressures of the Earth's core, from synchrotron X-ray diffraction measurements of iron, under imposed axial stress, in diamond-anvil cells. The epsilon-iron (hexagonally close packed) crystals display strong preferred orientation, with c-axes parallel to the axis of the diamond-anvil cell. Polycrystal plasticity theory predicts an alignment of c-axes parallel to the compression direction as a result of basal slip, if basal slip is either the primary or a secondary slip system. The experiments provide direct observations of deformation mechanisms that occur in the Earth's inner core, and introduce a method for investigating, within the laboratory, the rheology of materials at extreme pressures.


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