University of Southampton researchers have found that rainwater can penetrate below the Earth's fractured upper crust, which could have major implications for our understanding of earthquakes and the generation of valuable mineral deposits.
It had been thought that surface water could not penetrate the ductile crust - where temperatures of more than 300°C and high pressures cause rocks to flex and flow rather than fracture - but researchers, led by Southampton's Dr Catriona Menzies, have now found fluids derived from rainwater at these levels.
Fluids in the Earth's crust can weaken rocks and may help to initiate earthquakes along locked fault lines. They also concentrate valuable metals such as gold. The new findings suggest that rainwater may be responsible for controlling these important processes, even deep in the Earth.
Researchers from the University of Southampton, GNS Science (New Zealand), the University of Otago, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre studied geothermal fluids and mineral veins from the Southern Alps of New Zealand, where the collision of two tectonic plates forces deeper layers of the earth closer to the surface.
The team looked into the origin of the fluids, how hot they were and to what extent they had reacted with rocks deep within the mountain belt.
"When fluids flow through the crust they leave behind deposits of minerals that contain a small amount of water trapped within them," says Postdoctoral Researcher Catriona, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre. "We have analysed these waters and minerals to identify where the fluids deep in the crust came from.
"Fluids may come from a variety of sources in the crust. In the Southern Alps fluids may flow upwards from deep in the crust, where they are released from hot rocks by metamorphic reactions, or rainwater may flow down from the surface, forced by the high mountains above. We wanted to test the limits of where rainwater may flow in the crust. Although it has been suggested before, our data shows for the first time that rainwater does penetrate into rocks that are too deep and hot to fracture."
Surface-derived waters reaching such depths are heated to over 400°C and significantly react with crustal rocks. However, through testing the researchers were able to establish the water's meteoric origin.
Funding for this research, which has been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, was provided by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC). Catriona and her team are now looking further at the implications of their findings in relation to earthquake cycles as part of the international Deep Fault Drilling Project, which aims to drill a hole through the Alpine Fault at a depth of about 1km later this year.
Notes to editors
1. "Incursion of meteoric waters into the ductile regime in an active orogen" by Catriona D. Menzies, Damon A. H. Teagle, Dave Craw, Simon C. Cox, Adrian J. Boyce, Craig D. Barrie, and Stephen Roberts is published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 399, p. 1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2014.04.046
2. Picture: The Southern Alps Mountain Range, New Zealand. Rain and snow falling on the mountains percolate to great depths. Photo credit: Simon Cox
3. To arrange interview opportunities with Dr Catriona Menzies, please contact Steven Williams, Tel: 023 8059 2128, email: S.Williams@soton.ac.uk
4. Through world-leading research and enterprise activities, the University of Southampton connects with businesses to create real-world solutions to global issues. Through its educational offering, it works with partners around the world to offer relevant, flexible education, which trains students for jobs not even thought of. This connectivity is what sets Southampton apart from the rest; we make connections and change the world. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/ http://www.southampton.ac.uk/weareconnected
Follow us on twitter: http://twitter.com/unisouthampton
Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/unisouthampton
Steven Williams | Eurek Alert!
Explosions of Jupiter’s aurora linked to extraordinary planet-moon interaction
25.03.2015 | American Geophysical Union
Rethinking wetland restoration: Smaller wetlands more valuable than previously thought
25.03.2015 | University of Waterloo
In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...
The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.
As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...
When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.
The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe.
Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...
Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.
From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...
25.03.2015 | Event News
19.03.2015 | Event News
17.03.2015 | Event News
27.03.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
27.03.2015 | Materials Sciences
27.03.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation