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mantle

mantle, portion of the earth's interior lying beneath the crust and above the core. No direct observation of the mantle, or its upper boundary, has been made; its boundaries have been determined solely by abrupt changes in the velocities and character of seismic waves passing through the earth's interior (see seismology). Samples of the upper mantle may be provided by some volcanic eruptions in ocean areas, e.g., the Hawaiian Islands. The continental and ocean crusts, along with part of the solid upper mantle, make up the lithosphere to a depth of about 62 mi (100 km). Within the lithosphere is the Mohorovičić discontinuity, or Moho, considered to be the mantle's upper surface, at depths ranging from 4 to 43 mi (7 to 70 km). Analysis of seismic waves indicates that rocks below the Moho are less rigid and slightly more dense than rocks making up the crust. A zone of low seismic velocity and rigidity just below the lithosphere, called the asthenosphere, is present in the upper part of the mantle, from 62 mi (100 km) to 156 mi (250 km). Its presence is of critical importance to plate tectonics. The mantle continues to the Gutenberg discontinuity at the liquid outer core, with the base of the mantle located about 1,800 mi (2,900 km) below the earth's surface. The entire mantle constitutes about 84% of the earth by volume. Its composition is thought to be similar to peridotite, an igneous rock of mostly magnesium-rich silicate.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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