Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Oceanographers in noble pursuit

21.01.2002


The warm gulf stream (red) as it travels across the Atlantic.
© RSMAS


Vast warm and cold currents loop around the globe.


Argon traces keep tabs on climate change.

A new method for detecting tiny quantities of a rare form of the element argon may help oceanographers to trace the vast undersea currents that regulate our planet’s climate.

The technique can pick out one atom of the rare isotope argon-39 (39Ar) amid 10 million billion other atoms. That’s equivalent to detecting less than a litre of water in America’s 300-mile Lake Michigan.



Philippe Collon, a nuclear physicist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, and his colleagues modified a particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago to find and count 39Ar atoms. Counting 39Ar "is decidedly tricky", says Collon. His team are still perfecting their technique.

Previous efforts to count 39Ar atoms in seawater required thousands of litres of water and months of processing. Collon’s technique should be able to measure the isotope’s concentration in about 10 litres of water in a few hours.

Ideal gas

Rare 39Ar is produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays hitting ordinary 40Ar - it then dissolves into the sea. Because the isotope decays at a fixed rate, the amount that remains at different depths tells researchers how long it has been since the water was last at the surface.

If the team can provide a reliable way to measure 39Ar, samples from the deep ocean could begin to yield new clues about the huge currents of the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt, and whether they are changing over time.

The conveyor belt is a giant loop that spans most of the world’s oceans - cold water moves from north to south along the sea floor, whereas warm water travels the other way at the surface. A complete cycle takes about 1,000 years.

The water in the conveyor belt carries much of the Earth’s heat, making it crucial to climate. Melting ice after the most recent Ice Age is thought to have halted the conveyor, causing sudden and massive shifts in climate. Some climatologists worry that melting of ice caps as a result of global warming could have the same effect.

The half-life of 39Ar - 269 years - "falls into a timescale that’s very useful for measuring climate change", says Bill Jenkins, who studies ocean circulation at the University of Southampton, UK.

Even better, Jenkins adds, argon is biologically inert. The movement of radioactive carbon in the bodies of plants and animals have confused previous ocean studies using that element.

But argon "doesn’t solve all of oceanography’s problems", warns Jenkins. There is still some question as to whether 39Ar is produced at a constant rate in the atmosphere. If it isn’t, fluctuations measured in the ocean may not have a direct bearing on ocean circulation.




TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/020114/020114-14.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Strong storms generating earthquake-like seismic activity
16.10.2019 | Florida State University

nachricht The shelf life of pyrite
14.10.2019 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Solving the mystery of quantum light in thin layers

A very special kind of light is emitted by tungsten diselenide layers. The reason for this has been unclear. Now an explanation has been found at TU Wien (Vienna)

It is an exotic phenomenon that nobody was able to explain for years: when energy is supplied to a thin layer of the material tungsten diselenide, it begins to...

Im Focus: An ultrafast glimpse of the photochemistry of the atmosphere

Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have explored the initial consequences of the interaction of light with molecules on the surface of nanoscopic aerosols.

The nanocosmos is constantly in motion. All natural processes are ultimately determined by the interplay between radiation and matter. Light strikes particles...

Im Focus: Shaping nanoparticles for improved quantum information technology

Particles that are mere nanometers in size are at the forefront of scientific research today. They come in many different shapes: rods, spheres, cubes, vesicles, S-shaped worms and even donut-like rings. What makes them worthy of scientific study is that, being so tiny, they exhibit quantum mechanical properties not possible with larger objects.

Researchers at the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE's Argonne National...

Im Focus: Novel Material for Shipbuilding

A new research project at the TH Mittelhessen focusses on the development of a novel light weight design concept for leisure boats and yachts. Professor Stephan Marzi from the THM Institute of Mechanics and Materials collaborates with Krake Catamarane, which is a shipyard located in Apolda, Thuringia.

The project is set up in an international cooperation with Professor Anders Biel from Karlstad University in Sweden and the Swedish company Lamera from...

Im Focus: Controlling superconducting regions within an exotic metal

Superconductivity has fascinated scientists for many years since it offers the potential to revolutionize current technologies. Materials only become superconductors - meaning that electrons can travel in them with no resistance - at very low temperatures. These days, this unique zero resistance superconductivity is commonly found in a number of technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Future technologies, however, will harness the total synchrony of electronic behavior in superconductors - a property called the phase. There is currently a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Symposium on Functional Materials for Electrolysis, Fuel Cells and Metal-Air Batteries

02.10.2019 | Event News

NEXUS 2020: Relationships Between Architecture and Mathematics

02.10.2019 | Event News

Optical Technologies: International Symposium „Future Optics“ in Hannover

19.09.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Energy Flow in the Nano Range

18.10.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering

MR-compatible Ultrasound System for the Therapeutic Application of Ultrasound

18.10.2019 | Medical Engineering

Double layer of graphene helps to control spin currents

18.10.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>