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Properties Of The Asthenosphere

The material of which the asthenosphere is composed can be described as plastic-like, with much less rigidity than the lithosphere above it. This property is caused by the interaction of temperature and pressure on asthenospheric materials. Any rock will, of course, melt if its temperature is raised to a high enough temperature. However, the melting point of any rock (or of any material) is also a function of the pressure exerted on the rock (or the material). In general, as the pressure is increased on a material, its melting point increases.

Materials that make up the asthenosphere tend to be slightly cooler than their melting point. This gives them a plastic-like quality that can be compared to glass. As the temperature of the material increases or as the pressure exerted on the material increases, the material tends to deform and flow. If the pressure on the material is sharply reduced, so will be its melting point, and the material may begin to melt quickly. The fragile melting point/pressure balance in the asthenosphere is reflected in the estimate made by some geologists that up to 10% of the asthenospheric material may actually be molten. The rest is so close to being molten that relatively modest changes in pressure or temperature may cause further melting.

In addition to loss of pressure on the asthenosphere, another factor that can bring about melting is an increase in temperature. The asthenosphere is heated by contact with hot materials that make up the mesosphere beneath it. Obviously, the temperature of the mesosphere is not constant. It is hotter in some places than in others. In those regions where the mesosphere is warmer than average, the extra heat may actually increase the extent to which asthenospheric materials are heated and a more extensive melting may occur. The results of such an event are described below.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: A-series and B-series to Ballistic Missiles - Categories Of Ballistic MissileAsthenosphere - Evidence For The Existence Of The Asthenosphere, Properties Of The Asthenosphere, The Asthenosphere In Plate Tectonic Theory