This may seem a trifling matter at first, but understanding the deposition of mud could significantly impact a number of public and private endeavors, from harbor and canal engineering to oil reservoir management and fossil fuel prospecting.
"Mudstones make up two-thirds of the sedimentary geological record," said IU Bloomington geologist Juergen Schieber, who led the study. "One thing we are very certain of is that our findings will influence how geologists and paleontologists reconstruct Earth's past."
Previously geologists had thought that constant, rapid water flow prevented mud's constituents -- silts and clays -- from coalescing and gathering at the bottoms of rivers, lakes and oceans. This has led to a bias, Schieber explains, that wherever mudstones are encountered in the sedimentary rock record, they are generally interpreted as quiet water deposits.
"But we suspected this did not have to be the case," Schieber said. "All you have to do is look around. After the creek on our university's campus floods, you can see ripples on the sidewalks once the waters have subsided. Closely examined, these ripples consist of mud. Sedimentary geologists have assumed up until now that only sand can form ripples and that mud particles are too small and settle too slowly to do the same thing. We just needed to demonstrate it that it can actually happen under controlled conditions."
Schieber and IU graduate student Kevin Thaisen used a specially designed "mud flume" to simulate mud deposition in natural flows. The oval-shaped apparatus resembles a race track. A motorized paddle belt keeps water moving in one direction at a pre-determined speed, say, 26 centimeters per second (about 0.6 miles per hour). The concentration of dispersed sediment, temperature, salinity, and a dozen other parameters can be controlled. M.I.T. veteran sedimentologist John Southard provided advice on the construction and operation of the mud flume used in the experiments.
For their experiments, the scientists used calcium montmorillonite and kaolinite, extremely fine clays that in dry form have the feel of facial powder. Most geologists would have predicted that these tiny mineral grains could not settle easily from rapidly moving water, but the flume experiments showed that mud was traveling on the bottom of the flume after a short time period. Experiments with natural lake muds showed the same results.
"We found that mud beds accumulate at flow velocities that are much higher than what anyone would have expected," said Schieber, who, because of the white color of the clay suspensions, calls this ongoing work the "sedimentology of milk."
The mud accumulates slowly at first, in the form of heart- or arrowhead-shaped ripples that point upstream. These ripples slowly move with the current while maintaining their overall shapes.
Understanding how and when muds deposit will aid engineers who build harbors and canals, Schieber says, by providing them with new information about the rates at which mud can accumulate from turbid waters. Taking into account local conditions, engineers can build waterways in a way that truly minimizes mud deposition by optimizing tidal and wave-driven water flow. Furthermore, Schieber explains, the knowledge that muds can deposit from moving waters could expand the possible places where oil companies prospect for oil and gas. Organic matter and muds are both sticky and are often found together.
"If anything, when organic matter is present in addition to mud, it enhances mud deposition from fast moving currents," he said.
The finding feels like something of a vindication, Schieber says. He and his colleagues have (genially) argued about whether muds could deposit from rapidly flowing water. Schieber had posited the possibility after noting an apparent oddity in the sedimentary rock record.
"In many ancient mudstones, you see not only deposition, but also erosion and rapid re-deposition of mud -- all in the same place," Schieber said. "The erosive features are at odds with the notion that the waters must have been still all or most of the time. We needed a better explanation."
David Bricker | EurekAlert!
In times of climate change: What a lake’s colour can tell about its condition
21.09.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Did marine sponges trigger the ‘Cambrian explosion’ through ‘ecosystem engineering’?
21.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy