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The layers of the Earth

The crust
The crust is everything we can see and study directly. The thinnest layer of the Earth, the
crust still measures about 40 km on average, ranging from 570 km (~344 miles) in
depth. But at the scale of the planet, thats less than the skin of an apple.

There are two types of crust continental and oceanic crust. Oceanic crust can be found at the
bottom of the oceans or below the continental crust; it is generally harder and deeper,
consisting of denser rocks like basalt, while continental crust contains granite-type rocks and
sediments. The continental crust thicker on land.
The crust is not one rigid thing, but its split into several tectonic plates. These tectonic
plates are not stationary, but are in relative motion one from another. Depending on the
relationship and geologic setting, there are three types of tectonic plate boundaries:
convergent (moving one toward the other), divergent (moving away from the other) and
transformant (moving laterally).

These plates float on the soft, plastic upper mantle.

The mantle

The mantle extends down 2,890 km, making it the thickest layer of Earth. It makes up
about 84% of Earths volume. Everything we know about the mantle we know indirectly,
as no human study managed to go beyond the crust. Most of the things we know about
the mantle we know from seismologic studies (more on that later).

The mantle is also divided into several layers, based on seismologic properties. The
upper mantle extends from where the crust ends to about 670 km. Even though this
area is regarded as viscous, you can also consider it as formed from rock a rock called
peridotite to be more precise. Below that, the lower mantle extends from 670 to almost
2900 kilometers below the surface.

Its basically accepted by now that the mantle is not in a steady state, but rather in a state of
constant motion. There is a general convective circulation, with hot material upwelling towards
the surface and cooler material going deeper. It is generally thought that this convection
actually directs the circulation of the plate tectonics in the crust.

Most earthquakes are formed on the surface, in the crust; as the plates ebb and tow tension
creates, and when that tension releases or when something breaks you have an earthquake.
However, earthquakes can also happen in the mantle, and at those pressures you cant possibly
talk about faulting and breaking. In subduction areas, where one plane goes beneath another,
earthquakes have been observed at depths of up to 670 km. The mechanism around these
earthquakes is still not well understood, but one of the theories is that some minerals shift from
one state to another, changing their volume in the process. This change in volume can lead to
earthquakes.

However, we are getting closer and closer to understanding the mantle even without getting
there. In recent times, researchers have gone close to replicating the high temperature/pressure
in the mantle, and high-level computer models are also revealing some of its secrets.

The core
We sometimes refer to the core as one thing, although the inner core and the outer core
are fundamentally different not layers of the same thing. The solid inner core has a
radius of ~1,220 km, while the liquid outer core extends up to a radius of ~3,400 km.

Wait, if we couldnt go to the mantle, how could we possibly know one is solid and one
isnt? Well, as before, the answer is the same: seismic waves (were almost there).
The inner core

The temperatures and pressures of the inner core are absolutely extreme, at
approximately 5,400 C (9,800 F) and 330 to 360 gigapascals (3,300,000 to 3,600,000
atm).

Its generally believed that the inner core is growing very slowly as the core cools
down, more of the outer core solidifies and becomes a part of the inner core. The
cooling rate is very low thought, at about 100 degrees Celsius per billion years.
However, even this slow growth is thought to have a significant impact in the generation
of Earths magnetic field by dynamo action in the liquid outer core.

Rather interestingly, the inner core seems to be asymmetric on the East-West line. There is a
model that explains this asymmetry with melting on one side and crystallization on the other.
This anomaly also likely affects the Earths magnetic field, creating an asymmetry on the
crystallizing side.

The outer core

The outer core is a low viscosity fluid (about ten times the viscosity of liquid metals at
the surface) liquid is a rather improper term. Because it has a very low viscosity, it is
easily deformed and malleable. It is the site of violent convection. It is also thought to
suffer very violent convection currents hey, and guess what? The churning of the outer
core and its relative movement is responsible for the Earths magnetic field.

The hottest part of the outer core is actually hotter than the inner core; temperatures
can reach 6,000 Celsius (10,800 Fahrenheit)as hot as the surface of the sun

How we know about the Earths layers


We can only see very small fractions of the Earths crust, which itself is a small fraction of
our planet so how can we know all these things?