Teach the Earth > Deep Earth > Teaching Activities > Determining Mantle Temperature and Composition from Discontinuities

Determining Mantle Temperature and Composition from Discontinuities

Anna Courtier
James Madison University, courtiam@jmu.edu
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 17, 2010


This pair of activities uses observations of mantle discontinuity structure to examine mantle heterogeneity and differences in the depth extent of melt sources for ridges and "hotspots." The first activity focuses on interpretations linked with temperature anomalies, and the second activity emphasizes that contributions from variable composition (iron and water) are important to consider as well.

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Upper level undergraduate. Previously used in a Special Topics course (Geochemistry and Geophysics of Hawaii from Top to Bottom). Could be used in Petrology or Geophysics/Solid Earth courses as well.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Basic Excel calculations, Phase Diagrams

How the activity is situated in the course

These are a pair of exercises that led up to a "mantle plume debate" in a Special Topics course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Concepts addressed include: mantle heterogeneity, mantle potential temperature, mantle discontinuities/phase transitions, and phase diagrams.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Data manipulation, evaluation of errors, evaluation of potential interpretations.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity is divided into two parts - 1) Using data from primary literature to calculate mantle potential temperature beneath a ridge and an oceanic island ("hotspot"). 2) Using the transition zone thickness observed beneath a "hotspot" (Hawaii) to analyze contributions from anomalous temperature and composition. In addition to the student activity sheets, an Excel key, instructor notes, and student handouts are included below.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Calculations can be checked with the Excel key. Both activities include short-answer questions that can be graded to assess students' understanding of the material. An in-class discussion following the second part of the activity also worked well for assessment and helped students to detect "holes" in some of their own arguments or interpretations.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Courtier, A. M., B. Bagley, and J. Revenaugh (2007), Whole mantle discontinuity structure beneath Hawaii, Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L17304, doi:10.1029/2007GL031006.

Katsura, T., et al. (2003), Post-spinel transition in Mg2SiO4 determined by high P-T in situ x-ray diffractometry, Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 136, 11–24.

Katsura, T., et al. (2004), Olivine-wadsleyite transition in the system (Mg, Fe)2SiO4, Journal of Geophysical Research, 109, B02209, doi:10.1029/2003JB002438.

Lawrence, J.F., Shearer, P.M., 2006. A global study of transition zone thickness using receiver functions. Journal of Geophysical Research 111. doi:10.1029/2005JB003973.

Lawrence, J.F., Shearer, P.M., 2008. Imaging mantle transition zone thickness with SdS-SS finite-frequency sensitivity kernels. Geophysical Journal International, 174:1, 143-158.

Li, X., Kind, R., Priestley, K., Sobolev, S.V., Tilmann, F., Yuan, X., Weber, M., 2000. Mapping the Hawaiian plume conduit with converted seismic waves. Nature 405, 938–941.

Shen, Y., C. J. Wolfe, and S. C. Solomon (2003), Seismological evidence for a mid-mantle discontinuity beneath Hawaii and Iceland, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 214, 143– 151.

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