The boundary between Earth's rigid lithosphere and the underlying, ductile asthenosphere is marked by a distinct seismic discontinuity. A decrease in seismic-wave velocity and increase in attenuation at this boundary is thought to be caused by partial melt. The density and viscosity of basaltic magma, linked to the atomic structure, control the process of melt separation from the surrounding mantle rocks. Here we use high-pressure and high-temperature experiments and in situ X-ray analysis to assess the properties of basaltic magmas under pressures of up to 5.5 GPa. We find that the magmas rapidly become denser with increasing pressure and show a viscosity minimum near 4 GPa. Magma mobility - the ratio of the melt-solid density contrast to the magma viscosity - exhibits a peak at pressures corresponding to depths of 120-150 km, within the asthenosphere, up to an order of magnitude greater than pressures corresponding to the deeper mantle and shallower lithosphere. Melts are therefore expected to rapidly migrate out of the asthenosphere. The diminishing mobility of magma in Earth's asthenosphere as the melts ascend could lead to excessive melt accumulation at depths of 80-100 km, at the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary. We conclude that the observed seismic discontinuity at the lithosphere- asthenosphere boundary records this accumulation of melt.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Earth and Planetary Sciences