Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mercury mineral evolution

26.06.2012
Mineral evolution posits that Earth's near-surface mineral diversity gradually increased through an array of chemical and biological processes.

A dozen different species in interstellar dust particles that formed the solar system have evolved to more than 4500 species today. Previous work from Carnegie's Bob Hazen demonstrated that up to two thirds of the known types of minerals on Earth can be directly or indirectly linked to biological activity.

Now Hazen has turned his focus specifically on minerals containing the element mercury and their evolution on our planet as a result of geological and biological activity. His work, published in American Mineralogist, demonstrates that the creation of most minerals containing mercury is fundamentally linked to several episodes of supercontinent assembly over the last 3 billion years.

Mineral evolution is an approach to understanding Earth's changing near-surface geochemistry. All chemical elements were present from the start of our Solar System, but at first they formed comparatively few minerals--perhaps no more than 500 different species in the first billion years. As time passed on the planet, novel combinations of elements led to new minerals. Although as much as 50% of the mercury that contributed to Earth's accretion was lost to volatile chemical processing, 4.5 billion years of mineral evolution has led to at least 90 different mercury-containing minerals now found on Earth.

Hazen and his team examined the first-documented appearances of these 90 different mercury-containing minerals on Earth. They were able to correlate much of this new mineral creation with episodes of supercontinent formation--periods when most of Earth's dry land converged into single landmasses. They found that of the 60 mercury-containing minerals that first appeared on Earth between 2.8 billion and 65 million years ago, 50 were created during three periods of supercontinent assembly. Their analysis suggests that the evolution of new mercury-containing minerals followed periods of continental collision and mineralization associated with mountain formation.

By contrast, far fewer types of mercury-containing minerals formed during periods when these supercontinents were stable, or when they were breaking apart. And in one striking exception to this trend, the billion-year-long interval that included the assembly of the Rodinian supercontinent (approximately 1.8 to 0.8 billion years ago) saw no mercury mineralization anywhere on Earth. Hazen and his colleagues speculate that this hiatus could have been due to a sulfide-rich ocean, which quickly reacted with any available mercury and thus prevented mercury from interacting chemically with other elements.

The role of biology is also critical in understanding the mineral evolution of mercury. Although mercury is rarely directly involved in biological processe--except in some rare bacteria--its interactions with oxygen came about entirely due to the appearance of the photosynthetic process, which plants and certain bacteria use to convert sunlight into chemical energy. Mercury also has a strong affinity for carbon-based compounds that come from biological material, such as coal, shale, petroleum, and natural gas products.

"Our work shows that in the case of mercury, evolution seems to have been driven by hydrothermal activity associated with continents colliding and forming mountain ranges, as well as by the drastic increase in oxygen caused by the rise of life on Earth," Hazen said. "Future work will have to correlate specific mineral occurrences to specific tectonic events."

Future work will also focus on the minerals of other elements to see how they differ and correlate with mercury's mineral evolution, and to new strategies for locating as yet undiscovered deposits of critical resources.

"It's important to keep honing in on the ways that minerals have evolved on our planet from their simple elemental origins to the vast array in existence today," Hazen said.

Hazen's co-authors are Joshua Golden, Robert Downs, and Grethe Hystad of the University of Arizona; Edward Grew of the University of Maine; and David Azzolini and Dimitri Sverjensky of Johns Hopkins University.

The authors are grateful to Russell Hemley and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, as well as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Deep Carbon Observatory, for grants to support initial development of the Mineral Evolution Database. This work was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, a NSF-NASA Collaborative Research Grant to the Johns Hopkins University and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and a DOE grant, and a U.S. National Science Foundation grant to the University of Maine.

The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) 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.

Robert Hazen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ciw.edu
http://carnegiescience.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon
16.07.2018 | University of California - Santa Cruz

nachricht Scientists discover Earth's youngest banded iron formation in western China
12.07.2018 | University of Alberta

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

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....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

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

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>