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Nature. 2011 Nov 23;479(7374):513-6. doi: 10.1038/nature10621.

Evidence for an oxygen-depleted liquid outer core of the Earth.

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School of Sciences, Wuhan University of Technology, Wuhan, Hubei 430070, China.


On the basis of geophysical observations, cosmochemical constraints, and high-pressure experimental data, the Earth's liquid outer core consists of mainly liquid iron alloyed with about ten per cent (by weight) of light elements. Although the concentrations of the light elements are small, they nevertheless affect the Earth's core: its rate of cooling, the growth of the inner core, the dynamics of core convection, and the evolution of the geodynamo. Several light elements-including sulphur, oxygen, silicon, carbon and hydrogen-have been suggested, but the precise identity of the light elements in the Earth's core is still unclear. Oxygen has been proposed as a major light element in the core on the basis of cosmochemical arguments and chemical reactions during accretion. Its presence in the core has direct implications for Earth accretion conditions of oxidation state, pressure and temperature. Here we report new shockwave data in the Fe-S-O system that are directly applicable to the outer core. The data include both density and sound velocity measurements, which we compare with the observed density and velocity profiles of the liquid outer core. The results show that we can rule out oxygen as a major light element in the liquid outer core because adding oxygen into liquid iron would not reproduce simultaneously the observed density and sound velocity profiles of the outer core. An oxygen-depleted core would imply a more reduced environment during early Earth accretion.


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