Take the 2-minute tour ×
Earth Science Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for those interested in the geology, meteorology, oceanography, and environmental sciences. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This question already has an answer here:

According to Wikipedia the earth's mantle is approximately 2900 km (1,800 miles) thick.

How is it possible to achieve such measurements?

Obviously we haven't sent anything down that far to check.

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by casey, Ben A. Noone, Neo, plannapus, Peter Jansson Apr 30 at 14:22

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

3  
Ain't the answer likely to be similar to that given for your other question? –  plannapus Apr 25 at 13:21
1  
Likely, but is seismology really the only way? –  Ben A. Noone Apr 25 at 13:25
2  
probably not. Do you think there is an alternative way that is valid for the mantle but invalid for the core? (this is not rhetorical, i have no idea myself) –  plannapus Apr 25 at 13:26
1  
the answer is the same as the question plannapus mentioed. –  Neo Apr 25 at 18:10
2  
You don't seem to have done a lot of research for someone who is so interested in the structure of the earth's interior. –  kwinkunks Apr 25 at 18:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You are right...noone ever was able to make a borehole that deep. The two deepest boreholes are about. 12.300 m (40.400 ft) - those are the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia and the Al Shaheen oil well in Qatar.

So how do we measure the thickness of our subsurface? Think of the earth as an onion with different layers. Each of those layers (lithosphere, asthenosphere, mesospheric mantle, outer core, inner core) contain different mechanical (and chemical) properties. Due to this it is possible to infer indirectly the depth of each layer by using the travel time of refracted/reflected seismic waves (those come from earthquakes).

As mentioned before, each layer contains different mechanical properties, thus making the seismic velocity different in each layer. So on the border of each layer, those changes cause refraction or reflection if large increases in seismic velocity are involved.

Conclusion: no direct measurements possible, only indirectly derived measurements by the speed of travel from seismic waves.

share|improve this answer

Very important is that the outer core being liquid (and mantle solid), shear waves from earthquakes cannot travel through the outer core. Along with refraction and reflection of P-waves at the core-mantle boundary, this S-wave shadow makes it possible to figure out how far down the boundary is.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.