Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A new theory on the formation of the oldest continents

13.03.2012
Geologists at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne have come up with a new idea as to how the earliest continents were formed

The earth's structure can be compared to an orange: its crust is the peel supported by the earth's heavy mantle. That peel is made up of a continental crust 30 to 40 kilometers thick. It is much lighter than the thinner oceanic crust and protrudes from the earth's mantle because of its lower density, like an iceberg in the sea.

"According to the current theory, the first continental crusts were formed when tectonic plates would collide, submerging oceanic crusts into the earth's mantle, where they would partially melt at a depth of approximately 100 kilometers. That molten rock then ascended to the earth's surface and formed the first continents," says adjunct professor Dr. Thorsten Nagel of the Steinmann Institute of Geosciences at the University of Bonn, lead author of the study. The theory has been supported by the oldest known continental rocks – approximately 3.8 billion years old – found in western Greenland.

Following trace elements

The composition of the continental crust corresponds to a semiliquid version of the oceanic crust melted by 10 to 30 percent of its original state. Unfortunately, the concentrations of the main chemical components in the re-solidified rock do not provide much information about what depth the fusion occurred at. "In order to find that out, you have to know what minerals the remaining 70 to 90 percent of the oceanic crust consisted of," explains Prof. Dr. Carsten Münker of the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy at the University of Cologne.

Researchers from Bonn and Cologne have now analyzed the Greenlandic rocks for different elements occurring at various high concentrations, also know as trace elements. "Trace elements provide geologists with a window to the origin of continental crust," says Prof. Münker. "With their help, we can identify minerals in the residual rock that were deposited in the depths by the molten rock."

Before the magma separated from the bedrock, the semifluid rock and the leftover solid minerals actively exchanged trace elements. "Different minerals have characteristic ways of separating when trace elements are smelted. In other words, the concentration of trace elements in the molten rock provide a fingerprint of the residual bedrock," explains Dr. Elis Hoffmann from Bonn, coauthor of the study. The concentration of trace elements in the oldest continental rock allows geoscientists to reconstruct possible bedrock based on their minerals and thus determine at what depth the continental crust originated.

The oceanic crust did not have to descend

Using computers, the scientists simulated the composition of bedrock and molten rock that would emerge from partially melting the oceanic crust at various depths and temperatures. They then compared the data calculated for the molten rock with the actual concentration of trace elements in the oldest continental rocks. "Our results paint a surprising picture," Dr. Nagel reports. "The oceanic crust did not have to descend to a depth of 100 kilometers to create the molten rock that makes up the rocks of the first continents." According to the calculations, a depth of 30 to 40 kilometers is much more probable.
The primeval oceanic crust could have 'oozed' continents

…it could definitely have had the power to do so in the Archean eon. Four billion years ago, the gradually cooling earth was still significantly warmer than it is today. The oceanic crust could have simply 'oozed' continents at the same time that other geological processes were occurring, like volcanism, orogeny, and the influx of water. "We think it is unlikely that the contents were formed into subduction zones. Whether or not tectonic plates of the primordial earth had such zones of subsidence is still a matter of debate," says the geologist from Bonn.

Publication: Generation of Eoarchean tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite series from thickened mafic arc crust, Geology, DOI: 10.1130/G32729.1

A photo for this press release can be found at:
http://www3.uni-bonn.de/Pressemitteilungen/060-2012
Contact:

Adjunct Professor Dr. Thorsten Nagel/Dr. J. Elis Hoffmann
Steinmann Institute of Geosciences
University of Bonn
Tel. 0228-732760
Email: tnagel@uni-bonn.de
Prof. Dr. Carsten Münker
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy
University of Cologne
Tel. 0221-4703198
Email: c.muenker@uni-koeln.de

Professor Dr. Thorsten Nagel | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uni-bonn.de

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Global study of world's beaches shows threat to protected areas
19.07.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NSF-supported researchers to present new results on hurricanes and other extreme events
19.07.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>