Gallium is a metal that is frequently used in modern high-technology products such as solar panels and LEDs, and hence, is a raw material that is of critical importance for the world economy. However, together with aluminium this metal may also provide new insight into the evolution of the Earth’s earliest oceans and continents at the time when life first formed and evolved on our planet.
In two new projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), respectively, Michael Bau, Professor of Geosciences at Jacobs University, and his PhD students Katharina Schier and David Ernst investigate how the distribution of gallium and aluminium in the oceans has changed from the onset of the geological record some 3.8 billion years ago until today.
Banded Iron-Formation from the Kuruman Formation, South Africa, that formed more than 2500 million years ago at the seafloor: an archive for the chemical composition of the oceans of early Earth.
Photo: Jacobs University
Bau and his team will use modern manganese nodules and iron- and manganese-rich chemical sedimentary rocks that were deposited at the seafloor of the ancient oceans, and can serve as archives of the chemical composition of ambient seawater.
Bau paints a vivid picture of the childhood of our planet: “The young Earth’s surface environment was very different from the one we live in today. There was very little if any oxygen in the atmosphere, whereas the carbondioxide content was much much higher. The oceans were rich in dissolved iron and manganese, and numerous large and small volcanoes expelled their lavas, ashes and gases into the atmosphere and oceans. The Sun shone weaker than it does today, the Moon was closer to Earth (which produced tides that were much stronger), and the Earth was frequently hit by large and small meteorites”.
And he adds: “But obviously, life managed to form and organisms evolved in this - by today’s standards - very hostile environment.”
Whereas the modern oceans receive most of their metal input from the continents via rivers, this was very different when Earth and its oceans were still young. Vigorous volcanic activity at the seafloor resulted in massive input of hot and acidic metal-rich waters, so-called hydrothermal fluids, into oxygen-free seawater, where the metals could accumulate. When sediments were deposited on the seafloor, they incorporated the hydrothermal metals together with those that had reached the ocean with rivers.
As hydrothermal fluids and river waters show very different ratios of gallium to aluminium, Bau, Ernst and Schier will investigate iron- and manganese-rich sediments to see how this ratio changed during the past 3800 million years. This will allow them to quantify the changing importance of these two sources. Bau explains: “To date, there exist almost no high-quality data for gallium concentrations in such samples because of serious analytical challenges. Not only will our project fill this gap, but it will also provide valuable information on the general distribution and behavior of gallium in the environment.”
Schier, who will focus on samples from the modern oceans, such as manganese nodules, emphasizes another aspect: “Due to the ever-increasing use of critical metals such as gallium in modern high-technologies like LEDs and solar panels, more and more of these metals are released into the environment. A better understanding of their behaviour in water, soil and organisms is a prerequisite to prevent environmental damage”. “And considering that gallium is a critical raw material, we will also improve our understanding of the processes that control the distribution of gallium, which will eventually help to find and evaluate gallium deposits”, Ernst is keen to add.
One of these new research projects is funded by the German Research Foundation within the framework of Priority Program 1833 “Building a Habitable Earth”, which brings together research groups from all over Germany to investigate how the Earth formed and then evolved from a hot ball of magma to one with landmasses, oceans and life. In this Priority Program, the team from Jacobs University’s Earth and Environmental Science program is not only involved in the research, but will also host an international workshop in Bremen, and will co-organize a field workshop in Brazil.
About Jacobs University Bremen:
Studying in an international community. Obtaining a qualification to work on responsible tasks in a digitized and globalized society. Learning, researching and teaching across academic disciplines and countries. Strengthening people and markets with innovative solutions and advanced training programs. This is what Jacobs University Bremen stands for. Established as a private, English-medium campus university in Germany in 2001, it is continuously achieving top results in national and international university rankings. Its almost 1,400 students come from more than 100 countries with around 80% having relocated to Germany for their studies. Jacobs University’s research projects are funded by the German Research Foundation or the European Research Council as well as by globally leading companies.
For more information: https://www.jacobs-university.de
Thomas Joppig | Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH
Corporate Communications & Public Relations
email@example.com | Tel.: +49 421 200-4504
Commercial registry: Amtsgericht Bremen, HRB 18117
President / Chairman of the Executive Board (Vorsitzender der Geschäftsführung): Prof. Dr. Michael Hülsmann
Managing Director (Geschäftsführer): Dr. Michael Dubbert
Chairman of the Board of Governors (Aufsichtsratsvorsitzender): Prof. Dr. Antonio Loprieno
Prof. Dr. Michael Bau | Professor of Geosciences
firstname.lastname@example.org | Tel.: +49 421 200-3564
Thomas Joppig | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Rare lizard fossil preserved in amber
27.02.2020 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
The seismicity of Mars
25.02.2020 | ETH Zurich
Researchers at the University of Bayreuth have discovered an unusual material: When cooled down to two degrees Celsius, its crystal structure and electronic properties change abruptly and significantly. In this new state, the distances between iron atoms can be tailored with the help of light beams. This opens up intriguing possibilities for application in the field of information technology. The scientists have presented their discovery in the journal "Angewandte Chemie - International Edition". The new findings are the result of close cooperation with partnering facilities in Augsburg, Dresden, Hamburg, and Moscow.
The material is an unusual form of iron oxide with the formula Fe₅O₆. The researchers produced it at a pressure of 15 gigapascals in a high-pressure laboratory...
Study by Mainz physicists indicates that the next generation of neutrino experiments may well find the answer to one of the most pressing issues in neutrino physics
Among the most exciting challenges in modern physics is the identification of the neutrino mass ordering. Physicists from the Cluster of Excellence PRISMA+ at...
Fraunhofer researchers are investigating the potential of microimplants to stimulate nerve cells and treat chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease. Find out what makes this form of treatment so appealing and which challenges the researchers still have to master.
A study by the Robert Koch Institute has found that one in four women will suffer from weak bladders at some point in their lives. Treatments of this condition...
The operational speed of semiconductors in various electronic and optoelectronic devices is limited to several gigahertz (a billion oscillations per second). This constrains the upper limit of the operational speed of computing. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have explained how these processes can be sped up through the use of light waves and defected solid materials.
Light waves perform several hundred trillion oscillations per second. Hence, it is natural to envision employing light oscillations to drive the electronic...
Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.
Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...
12.02.2020 | Event News
16.01.2020 | Event News
15.01.2020 | Event News
28.02.2020 | Materials Sciences
28.02.2020 | Life Sciences
28.02.2020 | Architecture and Construction