Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


"Nanominerals" Influence Earth Systems from Ocean to Atmosphere to Biosphere

The ubiquity of tiny particles of minerals--mineral nanoparticles--in oceans and rivers, atmosphere and soils, and in living cells are providing scientists with new ways of understanding Earth's workings. Our planet's physical, chemical, and biological processes are influenced or driven by the properties of these minerals.

So states a team of researchers from seven universities in a paper published in this week's issue of the journal Science: "Nanominerals, Mineral Nanoparticles, and Earth Systems."

The way in which these infinitesimally small minerals influence Earth's systems is more complex than previously thought, the scientists say. Their work is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"This is an excellent summary of the relevance of natural nanoparticles in the Earth system," said Enriqueta Barrera, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences. "It shows that there is much to be learned about the role of nanominerals, and points to the need for future research."

Minerals have an enormous range of physical and chemical properties due to a wide range of composition and structure, including particle size. Each mineral has a set of specific physical and chemical properties. Nanominerals, however, have one critical difference: a range of physical and chemical properties, depending on their size and shape.

"This difference changes our view of the diversity and complexity of minerals, and how they influence Earth systems," said Michael Hochella of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.

The role of nanominerals is far-reaching, said Hochella. Nanominerals are widely distributed throughout the atmosphere, oceans, surface and underground waters, and soils, and in most living organisms, even within proteins.

Nanoparticles play an important role in the lives of ocean-dwelling phytoplankton, for example, which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Phytoplankton growth is limited by iron availability. Iron in the ocean is composed of nanocolloids, nanominerals, and mineral nanoparticles, supplied by rivers, glaciers and deposition from the atmosphere. Nanoscale reactions resulting in the formation of phytoplankton biominerals, such as calcium carbonate, are important influences on oceanic and global carbon cycling.

On land, nanometer-scale hematite catalyzes the oxidation of manganese, resulting in the rapid formation of minerals that absorb heavy metals in water and soils. The rate of oxidation is increased when nanoparticles are present.

Conversely, harmful heavy metals may disperse widely, courtesy of nanominerals. In research at the Clark Fork River Superfund Complex in Montana, Hochella discovered a nanomineral involved in the movement of lead, arsenic, copper, and zinc through hundred of miles of Clark River drainage basin.

Nanominerals can also move radioactive substances. Research at one of the most contaminated nuclear sites in the world, a nuclear waste reprocessing plant in Mayak, Russian, has shown that plutonium travels in local groundwater, carried by mineral nanoparticles.

In the atmosphere, mineral nanoparticles impact heating and cooling. Such particles act as water droplet growth centers, which lead to cloud formation. The size and density of droplets influences solar radiation and cloud longevity, which in turn influence average global temperatures.

"The biogeochemical and ecological impact of natural and synthetic nanomaterials is one of the fastest growing areas of research, with not only vital scientific, but also large environmental, economic, and political consequences," the authors conclude.

In addition to Hochella, authors of the paper are Steven Lower of Ohio State University, and Patricia Maurice of the University of Notre Dame; along with R. Lee Penn of the University of Minnesota; Nita Sahai of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Donald Sparks of the University of Delaware; and Benjamin Twining of the University of South Carolina.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Gas hydrate research: Advanced knowledge and new technologies
23.03.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ

nachricht New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data
22.03.2018 | University of Southampton

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>