4D map of the Earth’s mantle set to be produced by Cardiff University

By Holly Giles

Despite being overlooked by many after the completion of GCSE science, the Earth is formed of multiple layers and the crust we live on is on top of a vast current of moving and ever-changing molten lava. This mantle layer moves the tectonic plates of the crust and those movements are responsible for many structures, volcanoes to caverns. The movement of the mantle has quite literally shaped the world around us. 

Researchers at Cardiff University are hoping to understand these movements better in order to understand the natural world. The work is part of a £3 project with nine universities across the UK. 

Professor Huw Davies from the University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences explained; “Just like discovering DNA opened up our understanding of biology, mapping the mantle flow will open up our understanding of how Earth has been shaped across its history.”

“If we want to understand how rocks are the way they are today, then we need to understand the processes that produced, deformed and moved them, which stem from flow in the mantle back in time,” continued Professor Davies.

This project will use cutting edge technology to produce a 4D map of the mantle movement over the past 1 billion years. This is expected to be achieved by combining data from across the world with seismic imaging from recent earthquakes. This will provide an indication of how the mantle moves and can be extrapolated to suggest how it may have moved in the past. 

Some people may question the need to understand the movement of mantle over a million years ago but Davies assures us of the impact of this work; “The 4D visualisation that the project will be produce will be of great interest to a wide variety of research areas and industries, from the exploration of mineral resources to understanding how large-scale events in the past shaped out climate and therefore underpin more robust predictions of future climate change.”

It is clear that the results produced by Cardiff University will help us understand the world we live in and what that world may look like in the future. This is important both for climate change and in the prediction of major natural disasters. It is not known when we can expect to see these results but it is an exciting advancement of technology that not only allows us to look beyond our planet, but also to look within.

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