Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


World's oldest rocks show how Earth may have dodged frozen fate of Mars

Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that has become a bane of modern society, may have saved Earth from freezing over early in the planet's history, according to the first detailed laboratory analysis of the world's oldest sedimentary rocks.

Scientists have theorized for years that high concentrations of greenhouse gases could have helped Earth avoid global freezing in its youth by allowing the atmosphere to retain more heat than it lost. Now a team from the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder that analyzed ancient rocks from the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, Canada, have discovered the first direct field evidence supporting this theory.

The study shows carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere could have sustained surface temperatures above freezing before 3.75 billion years ago according to the researchers, led by University of Chicago Assistant Professor Nicolas Dauphas. Co-authors on the study, which appeared online Jan. 16 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, included Assistant Professor Stephen Mojzsis and doctoral student Nicole Cates of CU-Boulder's geological sciences department and Vincent Busigny, now of the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris.

The new study helps explain how Earth may have avoided becoming frozen solid early in its history, when astrophysicists believe the sun was 25 percent fainter than today. Previous studies had shown liquid water existed at Earth's surface even though the weak sun should have been unable to warm the planet above freezing conditions. But high concentrations of CO2 or methane could have warmed the planet, according to the research team.

The ancient rocks from Quebec contain iron carbonates believed to have precipitated from ancient oceans, according to the study. Since the iron carbonates could only have formed in an atmosphere containing far higher CO2 levels than those found in Earth's atmosphere today, the researchers concluded the early Earth environment was extremely rich in CO2.

"We now have direct evidence that Earth's atmosphere was loaded with CO2 early in its history, which probably kept the planet from freezing and going the way of Mars," said Mojzsis.

The CO2 could even have played a role as a "planetary thermostat," since cold, icy conditions on Earth would have decreased the chemical weathering of rocks and increased the amount of CO2 moving into the atmosphere, ratcheting up Earth's surface temperatures, according to Dauphas.

In a companion article that appeared online Feb. 2 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Mojzsis, Cates and CU-Boulder undergraduate Jon Adam used a technique known as uranium-lead dating to establish the ancient age of the Hudson Bay rocks. Discovered by Canadian scientists in 2001, the rocks were confirmed by Mojzsis and his team to be at least as old as an isolated outcropping of West Greenland rocks previously believed by researchers to be the oldest on Earth.

The CU-Boulder team analyzed the rocks by crushing them into powder and dating zircon crystals present in the rock, said Mojzsis. The technique allowed them to calculate the geologic age of the crystals based on the radioactive decay rate of the uranium and lead isotopes in relation to each other, a technique known to be accurate to 1 percent or less.

"Zircon is nature's best timekeeper," said Mojzsis. "The tests show that the rocks in Quebec are roughly 3.75 billion years old, about the same as the West Greenland rocks."

The landscape of the Hudson Bay region under study today, marked by hills of grassland and marsh peppered by lakes, streams and craggy outcroppings, is much different from the alien Earth of 3.8 billion years ago, said Mojzsis. In much earlier times, a dense atmosphere of CO2 would have given the sky a reddish cast, and a greenish-blue ocean of iron-rich water would have lapped onto beaches, he said.

While scientists have been concerned that the limited sample of Earth's oldest known rocks from West Greenland provided a biased view of early Earth, the Hudson Bay discovery essentially doubles the known amount of extremely ancient rocks, and there appear to be a number of similar, ancient outcrops in the vicinity. "We are now finding Earth's oldest rocks are not as rare as we once thought," Mojzsis said.

Stephen Mojzsis | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>