Inferences on the rheology of the mantle based on theoretical and experimental rate equations for steady state creep are discussed and compared with results from geophysical models. The radial increase of viscosity by one to three orders of magnitude across the mantle, required by inversion of postglacial rebound and geodynamic data, is confirmed by microphysical models based on the estimation of continuous and discontinuous changes of creep parameters with depth. The upper mantle (viscosity ∼10 20-10 21 Pa s) is likely to show non-Newtonian rheology (power-law creep) for average grain sizes larger than 0.1 mm as an order of magnitude. Given the variability of both grain size and stress conditions, local regions of linear rheology can be present. The rheology of transition zone and lower mantle (viscosity ∼10 22-10 24 Pa s) cannot be definitely resolved at present. Estimation of creep parameters leads to possible nonlinear or mixed rheology, if grain sizes are not lower than 0.1 mm and flow conditions can be approximated by a constant strain rate of about 10 -15 s -1. This conclusion can be modified by different flow conditions (e.g. a decrease in strain rate or constant viscous dissipation). Furthermore, experiments on fine-grained garnetites and perovskite analogues have shown that diffusion creep is predominant at laboratory conditions. However, the pressure dependence of creep in these phases is unknown, and therefore direct extrapolation to lower mantle conditions is necessarily speculative. Lateral variations of viscosity, largest in the upper and lowermost mantle (up to 2-4 orders of magnitude) are predicted by models based on lateral temperature anomalies derived from seismic tomographic models.

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Journal Journal of Geodynamics
Ranalli, G. (2001). Mantle rheology: Radial and lateral viscosity variations inferred from microphysical creep laws. Journal of Geodynamics, 32(4-5), 425–444. doi:10.1016/S0264-3707(01)00042-4