Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Rust under pressure could explain deep Earth anomalies


Using laboratory techniques to mimic the conditions found deep inside the Earth, a team of Carnegie scientists led by Ho-Kwang "Dave" Mao has identified a form of iron oxide that they believe could explain seismic and geothermal signatures in the deep mantle. Their work is published in Nature.

Iron and oxygen are two of the most geochemically important elements on Earth. The core is rich in iron and the atmosphere is rich in oxygen, and between them is the entire range of pressures and temperatures on the planet.

An artwork depicting the decomposition of FeOOH in lower mantle conditions. The cycle starts from α-FeOOH (blue dot on the top) to its high-pressure form (brown dot), to FeO2 (center crystal) and hydrogen (cyan bubbles), and finally produce other minerals (bubbles on the left side).

Courtesy of Ms. Xiaoya

"Interactions between oxygen and iron dictate Earth's formation, differentiation--or the separation of the core and mantle--and the evolution of our atmosphere, so naturally we were curious to probe how such reactions would change under the high-pressure conditions of the deep Earth," said Mao.

The research team--Qingyang Hu, Duck Young Kim, Wenge Yang, Liuxiang Yang, Yue Meng, Li Zhang, & Ho-Kwang Mao--put ordinary rust, or FeOOH, under about 900,000 times normal atmospheric pressure and at about 3200 degrees Fahrenheit and were able to synthesize a form of iron oxide, FeO2, that structurally resembles pyrite, also known as fool's gold. The reaction gave off hydrogen in the form of H2.

FeOOH is found in iron ore deposits that exist in bogs, so it could easily move into the deep Earth at plate tectonic boundaries, as could samples of ferric oxide, Fe2O3, which along with water will also form the pyrite-like iron oxide under deep lower mantle conditions.

Why does this interest the researchers? For one thing, this type of reaction could have started in Earth's infancy, and understanding it could inform theories of our own planet's evolution, as well as its current geochemistry.

Furthermore, the H2 released in this reaction would work its way upward, possibly reacting with other materials on its way. Meanwhile, the iron oxide would settle planet's depths and form reservoirs of oxygen there, particularly if one of these patches of iron oxide moved upward along the pressure gradient to the middle part of the mantle and separated into iron and O2.

"Pools of free oxygen under these conditions could create many reactions and chemical phases, which might be responsible for seismic and geochemical signatures of the deep Earth," Mao explained.

"Our experiments mimicking mantle conditions demonstrate that more research is needed on this pyrite-like phase of iron oxide." Hu added.

The research team believes their findings could even offer an alternate explanation for the Great Oxygenation Event that changed Earth's atmosphere between 2 and 2.5 billion years ago. The rise of bacteria performing photosynthesis, which releases oxygen as a byproduct, is often considered the source of the rapid increase in atmospheric oxygen, which had previously been scarce. But releases of oxygen from upwelling of deep mantle FeO2 patches could provide an abiotic explanation for the phenomenon, they say.


Researchers were supported by the NSF and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Measurements were performed at the High Pressure Collaborative Access Team, Advanced Photon Source, Argonne National Laboratory, and the BL15U1 beamline, Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility in China. Parts of the experiments were performed at the 13BM-C experimental station of the GeoSoilEnviroCARS facility at the APS. HPCAT operations are supported by the DOE-NNSA and by the DOE-BES, with partial instrumentation funding by the NSF. 13BM-C operation is supported by COMPRES through the Partnership for Extreme Crystallography (PX2) project, under an NSF Cooperative Agreement. APS is supported by the DOE-BES.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Media Contact

Ho-Kwang "Dave" Mao


Ho-Kwang "Dave" Mao | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Atmosphere Earth's mantle Oxygen atmospheric pressure ferric oxide iron oxide

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

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...

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

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>