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Collaboration with AMNH

LMU geophysicists provide new exhibit

München, 07/09/2018

LMU geophysicists use computationally intensive simulations to study processes in Earth’s mantle. A model based on their results is now one of the highlights of a permanent exhibition in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.


The 3-D printed convection model now on show in the American Museum of Natural History is based on a computer simulation done by geophysicists at LMU. In order to provide a clear view into the model that depicts the temperature distribution driving the dynamic processes in the mantle, the continents are shown in outline and the oceans are omitted. The coldest, sinking parts of the mantle are shown in red, and its hottest, rising parts in yellow.
Credits: AMNH/D. Finnin

A new exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, one of the largest museums of its kind in the world, draws on the expertise of geophysicists at LMU. A research team led by Hans-Peter Bunge, who holds a Chair in Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has developed a computer model simulating processes that take place in Earth’s deep interior and illustrating their impact on the planet’s surface. The new exhibit, displayed in the museum’s “David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman-Hall of Planet Earth” (HOPE), is a 3-D printed physical model based on a snapshot from such a computer simulation, which depicts the convection in Earth’s mantle. The simulation itself was carried out on SuperMUC, the high-performance computing system of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) in Garching near Munich and was visualized at their Centre for Virtual Reality and Visualisation (V2C) afterwords.

This animated sequence is part of a simulation carried out on SuperMUC and depicts the evolution of the mantle over the past 200 million years. The visualization illustrates how dynamic processes in the Earth’s interior affect the planet’s surface. Not only does it show the continents from different perspectives, it also portrays the convection currents that are driven by temperature differences within the mantle. In this case, the regions shown in red correspond to the hot and rising rock, while the colder, sinking regions are depicted in blue.
Credits: LRZ/LMU, M. Wiedemann & B. Schuberth

Looking deep into Earth‘s interior
The mantle is a roughly 3000 km thick shell that extends from the outer part of Earth’s core to the base of the crust. It consists largely of hot, dense solid rock, which is in constant, albeit extremely slow, motion. The hottest, and thus least dense, parts of the mantle rise toward the surface, while the cooler and denser fractions sink toward the core. This churning motion, which is referred to as convection, is the mechanism that drives plate tectonics, i.e. the motions of the tectonic plates. The plates form the outermost shell of our planet and they are slowly but ceaselessly reordering their configuration. “This convective flow in the mantle occurs on time scales of hundreds of millions of years and is due to creep processes within the solid rock,” explains Dr. Bernhard Schuberth, a member of Bunge’s group and project director Geodynamics. Being the driving mechanism of plate tectonics, convection in the mantle is the ultimate cause of earthquakes and volcanism. “Precise knowledge of the forces in Earth’s mantle is the fundamental prerequisite for the ability to model and understand the mechanisms that underlie these natural disasters,” says Schuberth. Since it is not possible to measure directly what goes on in Earth’s deep interior, geophysicists must simulate mantle flow on supercomputers, using mathematical models linking the relevant physical parameters, such as temperature and buoyancy. “Thanks to 3D visualization methods and modern virtual-reality technologies, developed and provided by the V2C team in the LRZ, simulations now allow us to plunge into Earth’s interior, as it were. In this way, the convective processes that are underway thousands of kilometers below the planet’s surface become visible and accessible” explains Schuberth.

The new permanent exhibit in the Hall of Planet Earth in the American Museum of Natural History opened on July 7, 2018.

The American Museum of Natural History produced this explanatory video that can be viewed alongside the 3-D-print in the “Hall of Planet Earth”. Extra information is provided to the visitors through 3-D-visualizations and explanations by LMU Professor Hans-Peter Bunge.
Copyright: AMNH