Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Noble gases hitch a ride on hydrous minerals

17.06.2013
The noble gases get their collective moniker from their tendency toward snobbishness.

The six elements in the family, which includes helium and neon, don't normally bond with other elements and they don't dissolve into minerals the way other gases do. But now, geochemists from Brown University have found a mineral structure with which the nobles deign to fraternize.


The mineral amphibole is made up of tetrahedral and octahedral structures linked together in a way that creates a series of rings. New research suggests those rings -- called A-sites -- could dissolve noble gases, which are not generally thought to dissolve in minerals. The findings could explain how noble gases are cycled from deep within the Earth to the surface and back again.

Credit: Parman Lab / Brown University

Researchers led by Colin Jackson, a graduate student in geological sciences, have found noble gases to be highly soluble in amphibole, a mineral commonly found in oceanic crust. "We found remarkably high solubility," said Stephen Parman, assistant professor of geological sciences at Brown and Jackson's Ph.D. adviser. "It was three or four orders of magnitude higher than in any other mineral than had been measured."

The findings, which are published in Nature Geoscience, are a step toward answering puzzling questions about how noble gases are cycled between the atmosphere and the depths of the Earth.

Completing the cycle

Gases in the air we breathe are on a geological conveyor belt of sorts, cycled from the Earth's mantle to the atmosphere and back again. Carbon dioxide, water vapor and other gases are released into the atmosphere and oceans from molten magma during volcanic eruptions, and then returned to depths through subduction, when one tectonic plate slides underneath another. The subducting crust is injected deep into the mantle, taking water and any other volatiles it may carry along for the ride.

Noble gases are also released during volcanic activity, but the amount of those gases returned to the mantle through subduction was long thought to be minimal. After all, if noble gases don't dissolve in minerals, they would lack a vehicle to make the trip. Recent research, however, has suggested that some noble gases are indeed recycled, leaving scientists at a loss to find a mechanism for it. By showing definitively that noble gases are soluble in amphibole, Jackson and his colleagues have shown how noble gases could be carried in subducting slabs.

The key to amphibole's ability to dissolve noble gases, the researchers say, is its lattice structure. Amphibole and other silicate minerals are made up of tetrahedral and octahedral structures linked together in a way that creates a series of rings. It's those rings, called A-sites, that provide a home for otherwise finicky noble gases, the research suggests.

Jackson performed a series of experiments to see if the number of empty rings in different types of amphibole were correlated to its ability to dissolve noble gases. He placed cut amphibole gems into a tube with helium or neon under high pressure and temperature, and then used a mass spectrometer to see how much of the gas had dissolved in each gem over the duration of each experiment. The experiments showed that noble gas solubility was highest in types of amphibole with the most unoccupied ring structures.

"This was the meat of the paper," Parman said. "It's telling us a specific site where we think the noble gases are. It might be the first time anyone has made a positive identification of where noble gases are going into a mineral."

Importantly, the researchers said, amphibole isn't the only crustal mineral with these ring structures. Ring structures are actually quite common in crustal minerals, and could provide a wide variety of potential vehicles that could take noble gases back to the depths via subduction.

A high-fidelity fingerprint

Understanding how noble gases are cycled between the Earth's surface and interior could shed new light on how other volatiles are recycled, the researchers said.

Scientists are particularly interested in tracking the cycling of water and carbon. Water is obviously vital for life, and carbon cycling has an important impact on the climate. Scientists try to track the cycle by looking at isotope ratios, which can provide a fingerprint that helps to identify where elements originated. Butarbon and the hydrogen in water have only a few isotopes that scientists can use for tracking, and in the case of hydrogen, the isotope ratios are easily thrown off by all kinds of natural processes.

The noble gases, on the other hand, have lots of isotopes, giving scientists ways to track them with great specificity. So if noble gases are cycled in the same minerals that cycle other volatiles like water and carbon, they could be used as a marker to track those other volatiles. "It's a very high-fidelity fingerprint because you have so many isotopes to play with," Jackson said.

There's more work to be done before noble gases could be used as such a fingerprint, but this work does provide a first step: showing which kinds of minerals could be responsible for noble gas recycling.

Other authors on the paper were Simon Kelley of The Open University in the United Kingdom and Reid Cooper, professor of geological sciences at Brown. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences (1019229).

Editors:

Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.

Kevin Stacey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>