Most of Earth's carbon hidden in planet's inner core

As much as two-thirds of Earth's carbon may be hidden in the inner core, making it the planet's largest carbon reservoir, scientists say.

University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues suggest that iron carbide, Fe7C3, provides a good match for the density and sound velocities of Earth's inner core under the relevant conditions. 

"The model of a carbide inner core is compatible with existing cosmochemical, geochemical and petrological constraints, but this provocative and speculative hypothesis still requires further testing," said principal investigator of the project, Jie Li, an associate professor in U-M's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. 

"Should it hold up to various tests, the model would imply that as much as two-thirds of the planet's carbon is hidden in its center sphere, making it the largest reservoir of carbon on Earth," Li said. 

It is now widely accepted that Earth's inner core consists of crystalline iron alloyed with a small amount of nickel and some lighter elements. 

However, seismic waves called S waves travel through the inner core at about half the speed expected for most iron-rich alloys under relevant pressures. 

Some researchers have attributed the S-wave velocities to the presence of liquid, calling into question the solidity of the inner core. 

In recent years, the presence of various light elements - including sulfur, carbon, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen - has been proposed to account for the density deficit of Earth's core. 

Iron carbide has recently emerged as a leading candidate component of the inner core.

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