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Andy Soos

Andy Soos

Andy Soos is a writer for the news site: Environmental News Network

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The Energy at the Earth’s Core

What spreads the sea floors and moves the continents? What melts iron in the outer core and enables the Earth’s magnetic field? Heat. Geologists have used temperature measurements from more than 20,000 boreholes around the world to estimate that some 44 terawatts (44 trillion watts) of heat continually flow from Earth’s interior into space. Where does it come from? Initially the earth heated up using energy released buy gravitational collapse, and while this energy completely melted the planet, this heat would have all been lost by now as the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. However, the earth is still hot in its core as we can see from all the volcanic activity on our planet. The energy which keeps the core hot and the volcanoes active is produced by radioactive decay. Heavy, radioactive elements such as uranium sank to the Earth's core along with the Iron and Nickel early in Earth's history (when it was all molten) and these radioactive elements have been heating the core (rather like a nuclear power station) ever since.

Earth Core

In 2005 scientists in the KamLAND collaboration, based in Japan, first showed that there was a way to measure the heat contribution directly. The trick was to catch what KamLAND dubbed geoneutrinos — more precisely, geo-antineutrinos — emitted when radioactive isotopes decay.

Anti-neutrinos are made in the beta-decay of neutron-rich daughter fragments in the fission process.  A neutrino meaning "small neutral one", is an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, is electrically neutral, and is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected. This makes neutrinos extremely difficult to detect. Neutrinos have a very small, but nonzero mass. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electron, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge.

KamLAND scientists have now published new figures for heat energy from radioactive decay in the journal Nature Geoscience. Based on the improved sensitivity of the KamLAND detector, plus several years’ worth of additional data, the new estimate is not merely consistent with the predictions of accepted geophysical models but is precise enough to aid in refining those models.

All models of the inner Earth depend on indirect evidence. Leading models of the kind known as bulk silicate Earth (BSE) assume that the mantle and crust contain only lithophiles (rock-loving elements) and the core contains only siderophiles (elements that like to be with iron). Thus all the heat from radioactive decay comes from the crust and mantle — about eight terawatts from uranium 238 (238U), another eight terawatts from thorium 232 (232Th), and four terawatts from potassium 40 (40K).

This is more heat energy than the most popular earth core model suggests, but still far less than the Earth’s total. Says Freedman (One of the authors), "One thing we can say with near certainty is that radioactive decay alone is not enough to account for Earth’s heat energy. Whether the rest is primordial heat or comes from some other source is an unanswered question."  Other sources — primordial heat left over from the planet’s formation, and possibly others as well — must account for the rest.

Better models are likely to result when many more geoneutrino detectors are located in different places around the globe, including midocean islands where the crust is thin and local concentrations of radioactivity (not to mention nuclear reactors) are at a minimum.


By. Andy Soos

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  • Anonymous on July 21 2011 said:
    What I know is that we think we know a whole lot more than we actually do.We have a whole lot of fancy equipment and formula's that allow us to think we're real smart. Key word "think".We think we're real smart, we feel safe in that facade... we're not. We are really pretty naive...Like the young magician who has a couple of tricks down but that's all. In front of a descerning audience he falls flat... so will we.The scientific house of cards is falling, the man over there behind the curtain is showing... he cannot deny his existance... he isn't even wearing any clothes. Naked as a jaybird... coming to a theater near you.
  • Anonymous on July 21 2011 said:
    Gravity collapse has been discounted. The heat comes from being a gyroscopic magnetic ball creating electric charge and magnetic attraction.See Thornhill:http://www.thunderbolts.info/online_videos_Thornhill_NPA.htm
  • Anonymous on July 22 2011 said:
    The failing to understand sufficiently in order to explain the source of heat being generated, starts with measurable data gathered being rationalized on the strength of yet unproven,though established, geophysical paradigms. To dismiss `other sources' as being attributable to `primordial heat' nullifies any presumed science to explain the entire phenomenon.
  • Anonymous on July 22 2011 said:
    Has anyone considered that the core of the earth may contain a plasma reactor the heat generated defused through the layers toward the outer crust? Obviously the closer to the core the more molten the material. And like any vessel, the extreme pressures will find or form fissures in the shell that contains it looking to be released aka: faults and volcanoes. And too, contribute to tectonic plate movement as the earth sphere itself is expanding for the ongoing and increasing energy of the plasma reaction that after a billion or more Sun orbits, in earth's future, will cause it to explode super-nova style. (I know this is stupid but not any more stupid then the rationale offered to-date)
  • Anonymous on July 23 2011 said:
    The additional heat source for the core may be from plasma generated electric current flows through the poles... the same current flows that provide the auroras.This would explain earth heating as well as saturn and other solar planets heating.
  • Anonymous on July 30 2011 said:
    S W Carey knew this; compression due to energized Fluff, magnetic cloud. Not mysterious, retreat of solar helipsphere leading to gas compression and of course core heating. And the big danger is that when the magnetic cloud itself runs out of the recent cosmic energy input and suddenly falls back, Sol's heliosphere will rebound and that is when the greatest lithosphere damage will be done..
  • William on May 22 2014 said:
    I know there are many different views on what the most apparent and obvious source of renewable if not harmful to the future and planet sources of energy out there. For one I am not an accredited scientist but we all have Inquisition's on how to better the stability of our future. I think from my layman's term of observation heat is all over. Although how to get to the energy may be difficult it may yeild it's rewards. I wonder if a man will always have to chop some wood and make a fire. Maybe we should accept that and work on what we can.
  • Grey on December 15 2015 said:
    Back to the wood powered steam age ???? Talk about destroying the planet.
  • Geo on October 08 2016 said:
    If you drill a (hypothetical) hole through the Earth and drop a 1kg object into it, as it accelerated though to the core it would release 32million J of gravitational potential energy. Likewise a 1kg object starting at the core at 7981m/s would lose all of its kinetic energy by the time it reached the surface, having accrued massive gravitational potential. Specific heat capacity is a function of temperature and pressure both rise towards the core and this is the only thing that keeps the core as cool as ~7000K! The pressure is 3.5million atmospheres, enough to render the iron/nickel core solid and compress this solid such that its density is 1.6times its 1bar value (who said solids are incompressible!).
    Put simply, the core is in thermodynamic equilibrium with the surface conditions and the hydrostatic conditions necessary to halt further collapse in a gravity field. The heat from radioactive decay and tidal friction together comprise 0.01% of the energy on Earth. The Sun does the rest (the other 99.99%).
    288K at the surface equals 7000K at the iron/nickel core for a self gravitating body of 6e24kg of this composition.

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