Geo-neutrinos

The main geophysical and geochemical processes that have driven the evolution of the Earth are strictly bound by the planet̓s energy budget. The current flux of energy entering the Earth’s atmosphere is well known: the main contribution comes from solar radiation (1.4 × 103 W m–2), while the energy deposited by cosmic rays is significantly smaller (10–8 W m–2). The uncertainties on terrestrial thermal power are larger – although the most quoted models estimate a global heat loss in the range of 40–47 TW, a global power of 30 TW is not excluded. The measurements of the temperature gradient taken from some 4 × 104 drill holes distributed around the world provide a constraint on the Earth’s heat production. Nevertheless, these direct investigations fail near the oceanic ridge, where the mantle content emerges: here hydrothermal circulation is a highly efficient heat-transport mechanism.

The generation of the Earth’s magnetic field, its mantle circulation, plate tectonics and secular (i.e. long lasting) cooling are processes that depend on terrestrial heat production and distribution, and on the separate contributions to Earth’s energy supply (radiogenic, gravitational, chemical etc.). An unambiguous and observationally based determination of radiogenic heat production is therefore necessary for understanding the Earth’s energetics. Such an observation requires determining the quantity of long-lived radioactive elements in the Earth. However, the direct geochemical investigations only go as far as the upper portion of the mantle, so all of the geochemical estimates of the global abundances of heat-generating elements depend on the assumption that the composition of meteorites reflects that of the Earth. See:Looking into the Earth’s interior with geo-neutrinos

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