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Published October 1967 | Published
Journal Article Open

Viscosity of the Earth


Direct and indirect estimates of the variation of viscosity with depth in the mantle indicate that a low viscosity layer exists in the upper mantle. A viscosity varying with depth can be used to reconcile the various estimates of relaxation times. If the seismic anelasticity can be used as a guide the average viscosity of the lower mantle is about 10^(23)P. Combined with previous estimates of the upper mantle viscosity this gives a relaxation time of about 3000 years for the non-equilibrium bulge of the Earth. This is close to the time from the last ice age but is much less than the 10^7 years required if the non-equilibrium bulge is due to the changing rate of rotation which requires an average mantle viscosity of 10^(26) P. If the latter value is correct the activation volume for creep is much larger than for anelasticity or the effect of a phase change in the upper mantle is more effective in suppressing creep than attenuation. The response of a layered viscous sphere to a surface load is calculated for a wide range of parameters including the above range of estimates for lower mantle viscosity. These results can be used to estimate the decay time, or the isostatic time scale, for various sized features.

Additional Information

© 1967 Royal Astronomical Society. This work was supported by the Sloan Foundation and we gratefully acknowledge their assistance. Division of Geophysical Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

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