So, there are three main methods of transferring heat: radiation, convection/mass transfer, and conduction. Presumably radiation is not a major method of heat transport between the core and the crust, because it requires transparent materials (or a vacuum), and I don't think there is much of either in the mantle. Presumably conduction is the only significant method of transport in the crust, apart from volcanos.

So, in the mantle, between the core, where heat is generated, and the crust, where it is eventually dissapated, what proportion of heat is transported via convection and conduction?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ One of the reasons I have not weighed in on this question is its unclear if the question is talking about the "crust" which is very little, and the Lithosphere, which would be more significant. Also, mathjax would be very important to me answering this question, as it can be numerically approximated by looking a the Heat Equation, better known as the Diffusion Equation. Melting in the upper mantle plays a significant role in this question as well. This is a very complex question either way. $\endgroup$
    – Neo
    Apr 17, 2014 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Neo: I'd be happy with an answer that just discussed heat flow from core to lithosphere. Your choice. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 17, 2014 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @naught101, I don't understand what part of your question can't be answered straight from wikipedia. "Earth's internal heat flow to the surface is thought to be 80% due to mantle convection" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth's_internal_heat_budget $\endgroup$
    – Kenshin
    Apr 23, 2014 at 6:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Geodude: thanks for the link to that article. I hadn't seen it before. You're correct that it answers the entire question. Feel free to close this question. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 23, 2014 at 7:07
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    $\begingroup$ This question is not off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Apr 23, 2014 at 13:04

3 Answers 3


It is still a little known fact that radiation play an important role in the Earth's mantle. Experiments show that mantle-material becomes transparent to infrared radiation at increasing pressures (http://www.esrf.eu/news/general-old/general-2004/earthbadro/index_html).

I would also say that the mantle is currently not understood in a way where estimates of heat-conduction-type versus depth can be accurately made. The heterogeneity of heat transfer (Cold detached subduction-slabs sinking to various depths and hot plumes quickly rising from the D''-layer) makes the question even more difficult.


Conduction probably is the main method in the crust, but do not underestimate fluid convection.

Every time you find a hot spring, then that is an example of fluid convection. Even volcanic eruptions could be considered convection.

Possibly even larger than these too, there is vigorous convection of seawater through young ocean crust. This can be seen on Figure 10 of Muller eta al Digital Models of the World's Ocean Crust. This plots depth vs age of ocean curve. The "TBL" line approximates the curve that is expected for conductive cooling of the Earth's crust. Reality (the bars) are rather different. Although most of this cooling is in young rock, the accumulative effect shows in the older crust. (this plot is trying to demonstrate something else, but I couldn't find a good example of this classic graph that implied this convection must exist long before Black Smokers were ever discovered)

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer, but I'm talking about heat getting up to the crust, not through it. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 17, 2014 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ (I probably shouldn't have mentioned it in the question - it's tangential, but thanks for addressing that comment). $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 17, 2014 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ i'm skeptical convection or conduction has much to do with the crust; the bottom of the lithosphere acts as a strong insulator. $\endgroup$
    – Neo
    Apr 18, 2014 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ related: earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/453 $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 24, 2014 at 3:24

At wikipedia you can find some answers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_gradient

Here it states that in the crust indeed conduction is the main method of heat trasfer. From the geothermal gradient it is also obvious that the outer core/mantle boundary is a big insulater. Since these two are separate heat transfer from the outer core to the mantle is also mainly by conduction.

For the mantle it is a story of both convection and conduction. I dont think the final answer is known here.

As an extra note. It seems that in your question you suggest that heat is generated in the core only. This is not true. Heat is also generated in the mantle through radioactive decay. This is estimated according to the linked wiki to be between 45 and 90% of the heat that escapes earth.


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