La retrodispersión sísmica revela los secretos del núcleo interno del planeta

Un terremoto en Alaska provocó que las ondas sísmicas penetraran en el núcleo interno de la Tierra. Crédito: Drew Whitehouse, Son Fom y Hrvoje Tkalcic.

Los datos de las ondas sísmicas causadas por los terremotos han arrojado nueva luz sobre las partes más profundas del núcleo interno de la Tierra, según sismólogos de la Universidad Nacional de Australia (ANU).

Al medir las diferentes velocidades a las que estas ondas penetran y pasan a través del núcleo interno de la Tierra, los investigadores creen que han documentado evidencia de una capa distinta dentro de la Tierra conocida como el núcleo interno más interno: una «esfera metálica» sólida ubicada justo dentro del centro de el núcleo interior.

No hace mucho tiempo, se pensaba que la estructura de la Tierra constaba de cuatro capas distintas: la corteza, el manto, el núcleo externo y el núcleo interno. Resultados publicados en

“This inner core is like a time capsule of Earth’s evolutionary history – it’s a fossilized record that serves as a gateway into the events of our planet’s past. Events that happened on Earth hundreds of millions to billions of years ago,” he said.   

The researchers analyzed seismic waves that travel directly through the Earth’s center and “spit out” at the opposite side of the globe to where the earthquake was triggered, also known as the antipode. The waves then travel back to the source of the quake.  

The ANU scientists describe this process as similar to a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth.  

“By developing a technique to boost the signals recorded by densely populated seismograph networks, we observed, for the first time, seismic waves that bounce back and forth up to five times along the Earth’s diameter. Previous studies have documented only a single antipodal bounce,” Dr. Phạm said.  

“The findings are exciting because they provide a new way to probe the Earth’s inner core and its centremost region.” 

One of the earthquakes the scientists studied originated in Alaska. The seismic waves triggered by this quake “bounced off” somewhere in the south Atlantic, before traveling back to Alaska. 

The researchers studied the anisotropy of the iron-nickel alloy that comprises the inside of the Earth’s inner core. Anisotropy is used to describe how seismic waves speed up or slow down through the material of the Earth’s inner core depending on the direction in which they travel. It could be caused by different arrangement of iron atoms at high temperatures and pressures or the preferred alignment of growing crystals.  

They found the bouncing seismic waves repeatedly probed spots near the Earth’s center from different angles. By analyzing the variation of travel times of seismic waves for different earthquakes, the scientists infer the crystallized structure within the inner core’s innermost region is likely different to the outer layer.  

They say it might explain why the waves speed up or slow down depending on their angle of entry as they penetrate the innermost inner core.  

According to the ANU team, the findings suggest there could have been a major global event at some point during Earth’s evolutionary timeline that led to a “significant” change in the crystal structure or texture of the Earth’s inner core. 

“There are still many unanswered questions about the Earth’s innermost inner core, which could hold the secrets to piecing together the mystery of our planet’s formation,” Professor Tkalčić said. 

The researchers analyzed data from about 200 magnitude-6 and above earthquakes from the last decade.  

Reference: “Up-to-fivefold reverberating waves through the Earth’s center and distinctly anisotropic innermost inner core” by Thanh-Son Phạm and Hrvoje Tkalčić, 21 February 2023, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-36074-2

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