The fate of waterwithin Earth and super-earths and implications for plate tectonics

Sonia M. Tikoo, Linda Elkins-Tanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The Earth is likely to have acquired most of its water during accretion. Internal heat of planetesimals by short-lived radioisotopes would have caused some water loss, but impacts into planetesimals were insufficiently energetic to produce further drying. Water is thought to be critical for the development of plate tectonics, because it lowers viscosities in the asthenosphere, enabling subduction. The following issue persists: if water is necessary for plate tectonics, but subduction itself hydrates the upper mantle, how is the upper mantle initially hydrated? The giant impacts of late accretion created magma lakes and oceans, which degassed during solidification to produce a heavy atmosphere. However, some water would have remained in the mantle, trapped within crystallographic defects in nominally anhydrous minerals. In this paper, we present models demonstrating that processes associated with magma ocean solidification and overturn may segregate sufficient quantities of water within the upper mantle to induce partial melting and produce a damp asthenosphere, thereby facilitating plate tectonics and, in turn, the habitability of Earthlike extrasolar planets. This article is part of the themed issue 'The origin, history and role of water in the evolution of the inner Solar System'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150394
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2094
StatePublished - May 28 2017


  • Extrasolar planets
  • Magma ocean
  • Planet formation
  • Plate tectonics
  • Super-earths
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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