Supercontinent Pangea was preceded by the formation of Gondwana, a “megacontinent”
about half the size of Pangea. There is much debate, however, over what role the assembly of the precursor megacontinent played in the Pangean supercontinent cycle. Here we dem- onstrate that the past three cycles of supercontinent amalgamation were each preceded by ∼200 m.y. by the assembly of a megacontinent akin to Gondwana, and that the building of a megacontinent is a geodynamically important precursor to supercontinent amalgamation. The recent assembly of Eurasia is considered as a fourth megacontinent associated with future supercontinent Amasia. We use constraints from seismology of the deep mantle for Eurasia and paleogeography for Gondwana to develop a geodynamic model for megacontinent assembly and subsequent supercontinent amalgamation. As a supercontinent breaks up, a megacontinent assembles along the subduction girdle that encircled it, at a specific location where the downwelling is most intense. The megacontinent then migrates along the girdle where it collides with other continents to form a supercontinent. The geometry of this model is consistent with the kinematic transitions from Rodinia to Gondwana to Pangea.
by D. Middleton, Nov 23, 2020 in WUWT
Field geology at Mars’ equator points to ancient megaflood
By Blaine Friedlander | November 18, 2020
Floods of unimaginable magnitude once washed through Gale Crater on Mars’ equator around 4 billion years ago – a finding that hints at the possibility that life may have existed there, according to data collected by NASA’s Curiosity rover and analyzed in joint project by scientists from Jackson State University, Cornell, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Hawaii.
The research, “Deposits from Giant Floods in Gale Crater and Their Implications for the Climate of Early Mars,” was published Nov. 5 in Nature Scientific Reports.
The full text of the excellent paper is available:
“We identified megafloods for the first time using detailed sedimentological data observed by the rover Curiosity,” said co-author Alberto G. Fairén, a visiting astrobiologist in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Deposits left behind by megafloods had not been previously identified with orbiter data.”
The most likely cause of the Mars flooding was the melting of ice from heat generated by a large impact, which released carbon dioxide and methane from the planet’s frozen reservoirs. The water vapor and release of gases combined to produce a short period of warm and wet conditions on the red planet.
The Curiosity rover science team has already established that Gale Crater once had persistent lakes and streams in the ancient past. These long-lived bodies of water are good indicators that the crater, as well as Mount Sharp within it, were capable of supporting microbial life.
“Early Mars was an extremely active planet from a geological point of view,” Fairén said. “The planet had the conditions needed to support the presence of liquid water on the surface – and on Earth, where there’s water, there’s life.
“So early Mars was a habitable planet,” he said. “Was it inhabited? That’s a question that the next rover Perseverance … will help to answer.”
Perseverance, which launched from Cape Canaveral on July 30, is scheduled to reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021.
by Virginia Tech, Nov 13, 2020 in ScienceDaily
The African continent is slowly separating into several large and small tectonic blocks along the diverging East African Rift System, continuing to Madagascar — the long island just off the coast of Southeast Africa — that itself will also break apart into smaller islands.
These developments will redefine Africa and the Indian Ocean. The finding comes in a new study by D. Sarah Stamps of the Department of Geosciences for the journal Geology. The breakup is a continuation of the shattering of the supercontinent Pangea some 200 million years ago.
Rest assured, though, this isn’t happening anytime soon.
“The rate of present-day break-up is millimeters per year, so it will be millions of years before new oceans start to form,” said Stamps, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Science. “The rate of extension is fastest in the north, so we’ll see new oceans forming there first.”
by University of Exter, Oct. 11, 2020 in WUWT
Pioneering new research has helped geologists solve a long-standing puzzle that could help pinpoint new, untapped concentrations of some the most valuable rare earth deposits.
A team of geologists, led by Professor Frances Wall from the Camborne School of Mines, have discovered a new hypothesis to predict where rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium could be found.
The elements are among the most sought after, because they are an essential part of digital and clean energy manufacturing, including magnets in large wind turbines and electric cars motors.
For the new research, scientists conducted a series of experiments that showed sodium and potassium – rather than chlorine or fluorine as previously thought – were the key ingredients for making these rare earth elements soluble.
This is crucial as it determines whether they crystalise – making them fit for extraction – or stayed dissolved in fluids.
The experiments could therefore allow geologists to make better predictions about where the best concentrations of neodymium and dysprosium are likely to be found.
The results are published in the journal, Science Advances on Friday, October 9th 2020.
University of Exeter researchers, through the ‘SoS RARE’ project, have previously studied many natural examples of the roots of very unusual extinct carbonatite volcanoes, where the world’s best rare earth deposits occur, in order to try and identify potential deposits of the rare earth minerals.
by P. Voosen, Sep 23, 2020 in AAAS Science
Many of the world’s most dangerous earthquake faults are a silent menace: They have not ruptured in more than a century. To gauge the hazard they pose to buildings and people, geologists cannot rely on the record of recent strikes, captured by seismometers. Instead, they must figure out how the faults behaved in the past by looking for clues in the rocks themselves, including slickenlines, scour marks along the exposed rock face of a fault that can indicate how much it slipped in past earthquakes.
Earthquakes don’t happen all at once. Rather, the slip between rocks begins at one spot on the face of the fault—the hypocenter—and travels along it, like a zipper being unzipped. As the rupture advances, the earthquake waves it generates pile up and intensify, like the siren of an approaching ambulance. Los Angeles lies at the northern terminus of the southern San Andreas fault, Ampuero notes. “If it breaks north, toward LA, that would be pretty bad.”
by Jack L. Lee, Sep 245, 2020 in Sciencenews
At Bumpass Hell in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park, the ground is literally boiling, and the aroma of rotten eggs fills the air. Gas bubbles rise through puddles of mud, producing goopy popping sounds. Jets of scorching-hot steam blast from vents in the earth. The fearsome site was named for the cowboy Kendall Bumpass, who in 1865 got too close and stepped through the thin crust. Boiling, acidic water burned his leg so badly that it had to be amputated.
Some scientists contend that life on our planet arose in such seemingly inhospitable conditions. Long before creatures roamed the Earth, hot springs like Bumpass Hell may have promoted chemical reactions that linked together simple molecules in a first step toward complexity. Other scientists, however, place the starting point for Earth’s life underwater, at the deep hydrothermal vents where heated, mineral-rich water billows from cracks in the ocean floor.
As researchers study and debate where and how life on Earth first ignited, their findings offer an important bonus. Understanding the origins of life on this planet could offer hints about where to search for life elsewhere, says Natalie Batalha, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “It has very significant implications for the future of space exploration.” Chemist Wenonah Vercoutere agrees. “The rules of physics are the same throughout the whole universe,” says Vercoutere, of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “So what is there to say that the rules of biology do not also carry through and are in place and active in the whole universe?”
by Ian Webster
by Washington University in St. Louis, Aug 27, 2020 in ScienceDaily
Enstatite chondrite meteorites, once considered ‘dry,’ contain enough water to fill the oceans — and then some
A new study finds that Earth’s water may have come from materials that were present in the inner solar system at the time the planet formed — instead of far-reaching comets or asteroids delivering such water. The findings published Aug. 28 in Science suggest that Earth may have always been wet.
Researchers from the Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques (CRPG, CNRS/Universite de Lorraine) in Nancy, France, including one who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, determined that a type of meteorite called an enstatite chondrite contains sufficient hydrogen to deliver at least three times the amount of water contained in the Earth’s oceans, and probably much more.
Enstatite chondrites are entirely composed of material from the inner solar system — essentially the same stuff that made up the Earth originally.
“Our discovery shows that the Earth’s building blocks might have significantly contributed to the Earth’s water,” said lead author Laurette Piani, a researcher at CPRG. “Hydrogen-bearing material was present in the inner solar system at the time of the rocky planet formation, even though the temperatures were too high for water to condense.”
by A. Préat (.pdf), 21 août 2020 in Bull.Séanc.Acad.R.Sci.OutreMer
Mots-clés. — Écosystèmes microbiens; Isotopes du carbone et du soufre; Oxydoréduction; Oxygène; Océans et atmosphère.
Résumé. — L’oxygène n’est pas apparu aussi brutalement qu’on le pensait sur notre planète. Malgré un apport en oxygène lié aux cyanobactéries dès l’archéen, ce ne sont pas ces microorganismes qui sont à la base de la première grande «révolution» de l’oxygène qui a eu lieu à la limite archéen/paléoprotérozoïque (il y a deux milliards et demi d’années) dans l’atmosphère, lors du Grand Événement d’Oxydation. Ce sont les processus liés au cycle de la tectonique des plaques (activité mantellique et périodes intenses d’érosion/altération) qui ont contribué de manière déterminante à l’augmentation de la concentration de l’oxygène atmosphérique voici deux milliards et demi d’années. Les deux principaux processus responsables de cette augmentation sont liés à l’enfouissement de la matière organique et de la pyrite. L’altération des séries riches de ces deux composants conditionnera ensuite pendant près d’un milliard d’années la composition chimique des océans en oxygène, soufre et fer. Au cours du temps, l’oxygène proviendra de l’activité des cyanobactéries et l’atmosphère réductrice du début de l’archéen sera remplacée par une atmosphère oxydante à la fin du précambrien.
Keywords. — Microbial Ecosystems; Carbon and Sulfur Isotopes; Oxidation Reduction; Oxygen; Oceans and Atmosphere.
Summary. — The Precambrian: Bacteria, Plate Tectonics and Oxygen. — Oxygen did not appear as abruptly as we thought on our planet. Despite an oxygen supply related to cyanobacteria since the Archean, these microorganisms are not at the origin of the first great oxygen revolution that took place at the Archean/Paleoproterozoic boundary (two and a half billion years) in the atmosphere during the Great Oxidation Event. Two processes related to the cycle of plate tectonics (mantle activity and intense periods of erosion/weathering) were mostly involved in the increase of the atmospheric oxygen concentration two and a half billion years ago. These two main processes are related to the burial of organic matter and pyrite. The alteration of series with high contents of these two elements will then condition for nearly one billion years the oxygen, sulfur and iron chemical composition of the oceans. Oxygen will finally come from the activity of cyanobacteria and the early Archean reducing atmosphere will be replaced by an oxidizing atmosphere at the end of the Precambrian.
Fig. 3. — Évolution des compositions chimiques et des organismes des océans en trois phases majeures. À l’archéen, les océans contiennent peu d’oxygène et sont relativement riches en fer (colonne de gauche), alors que dans les océans modernes (colonne de droite) l’oxygène est abondant et le fer en quantité limitée. Entre ces deux phases, un long intervalle d’un peu plus d’un milliard d’années est caractérisé par des océans avec des concentrations modérées d’oxygène en surface et des eaux plus profondes riches en H2S en présence de quantités limitées de fer, de molybdène et d’autres éléments en traces importants dans les cycles biologiques. La colonne centrale représente l’«Océan de Canfield» et caractérise le Boring Billion. L’H2S produit (suite à la présence des sulfates, cf. texte) réagit avec le fer ferreux pour former la pyrite. Le fer ferreux n’est donc pas consommé par l’oxygène durant cet intervalle de temps, mais par l’H2S. L’Événement Lomagundi-Jatuli a lieu à environ 2,1 Ga dans le GOE (Great Oxidation Event), marqué par une très forte production d’oxygène. Le début du GOE est marqué par l’oxydation de la pyrite sur les cratons et la disparition des minéraux détritiques sensibles aux conditions d’oxydoréduction des éléments chalcophiles ou sidérophiles (uraninite, sidérite, pyrite, molybdénite, etc.). Les deux grands épisodes «Terre Boule de Neige» à 2,3 Ga («Glaciation Makganyena») et 0,635 («Glaciation Marinoenne»), et d’autres événements glaciaires moins importants ne sont pas reportés ni discutés dans le texte (modifié d’après Knoll 2003).
by Geology Page, January 8, 2017
Name: Hoba “This is an OFFICIAL meteorite name”
Abbreviation: There is no official abbreviation for this meteorite.
Observed fall: No
Year found: 1920
Mass: 60 tons
The Hoba or Hoba West meteorite lies on the farm “Hoba West”, not far from Grootfontein, in the Otjozondjupa Region of Namibia. It has been uncovered but, because of its large mass, has never been moved from where it fell. The main mass is estimated at more than 60 tons, making it the largest known meteorite (as a single piece) and the most massive naturally occurring piece of iron known on Earth’s surface.
The Hoba meteorite impact is thought to have occurred more recently than 80,000 years ago. It is inferred that the Earth’s atmosphere slowed the object to the point that it impacted the surface at terminal velocity, thereby remaining intact and causing little excavation.
Assuming a drag coefficient of about 1.3, the meteor would have been slowed to about 720 miles per hour (0.32 km/s) from its speed on entering the Earth’s atmosphere, typically in excess of 10 km/s for similar objects. The meteorite is unusual in that it is flat on both major surfaces, possibly causing it to have skipped across the top of the atmosphere like a flat stone skipping on water.
by Geological Society of America, July 14, 2020 in ScienceDaily
The impact event that formed the Chicxulub crater (Yucatán Peninsula, México) caused the extinction of 75% of species on Earth 66 million years ago, including non-avian dinosaurs. One place that did not experience much extinction was the deep, as organisms living in the abyss made it through the mass extinction event with just some changes to community structure.
New evidence from International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 364 of trace fossils of burrowing organisms that lived in the seafloor of the Chicxulub Crater beginning a few years after the impact shows just how quick the recovery of the seafloor ecosystem was, with the establishment of a well-developed tiered community within approximately 700,000 years after the event.
by Takeuchi et al., June8, 2020 in SciReports Open Access
Abiotic synthesis of biomolecules is an essential step for the chemical origin of life. Many attempts have succeeded in synthesizing biomolecules, including amino acids and nucleobases (e.g., via spark discharge, impact shock, and hydrothermal heating), from reduced compounds that may have been limited in their availabilities on Hadean Earth and Noachian Mars. On the other hand, formation of amino-acids and nucleobases from CO2 and N2 (i.e., the most abundant C and N sources on Earth during the Hadean) has been limited via spark discharge. Here, we demonstrate the synthesis of amino acids by laboratory impact-induced reactions among simple inorganic mixtures: Fe, Ni, Mg2SiO4, H2O, CO2, and N2, by coupling the reduction of CO2, N2, and H2O with the oxidation of metallic Fe and Ni. These chemical processes simulated the possible reactions at impacts of Fe-bearing meteorites/asteroids on oceans with a CO2 and N2 atmosphere. The results indicate that hypervelocity impact was a source of amino acids on the Earth during the Hadean and potentially on Mars during the Noachian. Amino acids formed during such events could more readily polymerize in the next step of the chemical evolution, as impact events locally form amino acids at the impact sites.
by Todd McLeish, May 27, 2020 U. of RhodeIsland in PhysOrg
A team of University of Rhode Island scientists and statisticians conducted a sophisticated quantitative analysis of a mass extinction that occurred 215 million years ago and found that the cause of the extinction was not an asteroid or climate change, as had previously been believed. Instead, the scientists concluded that the extinction did not occur suddenly or simultaneously, suggesting that the disappearance of a wide variety of species was not linked to any single catastrophic event.
Their research, based on paleontological field work carried out in sediments 227 to 205 million years old in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, was published in April in the journal Geology.
by Geggel L., May 21, 2020 in LiveScience
The giant tectonic plate under the Indian Ocean is going through a rocky breakup … with itself.
In a short time (geologically speaking) this plate will split in two, a new study finds.
To humans, however, this breakup will take an eternity. The plate, known as the India-Australia-Capricorn tectonic plate, is splitting at a snail’s pace — about 0.06 inches (1.7 millimeters) a year. Put another way, in 1 million years, the plate’s two pieces will be about 1 mile (1.7 kilometers) farther apart than they are now.
“It’s not a structure that is moving fast, but it’s still significant compared to other planet boundaries,” said study co-researcher Aurélie Coudurier-Curveur, a senior research fellow of marine geosciences at the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris.
For instance, the Dead Sea Fault in the Middle East is moving at about double that rate, or 0.2 inches (0.4 centimeters) a year, while the San Andreas Fault in California is moving about 10 times faster, at about 0.7 inches (1.8 cm) a year.
The plate is splitting so slowly and it’s so far underwater, researchers almost missed what they’re calling the “nascent plate boundary.” But two enormous clues — that is, two strong earthquakes originating in a strange spot in the Indian Ocean — suggested that Earth-changing forces were afoot.
On April 11, 2012, a magnitude-8.6 and magnitude-8.2 earthquake hit beneath the Indian Ocean, near Indonesia. The earthquakes didn’t happen along a subduction zone, where one tectonic plate slides under another. Instead, these quakes originated in a weird place for earthquakes to happen — in the middle of the plate.
by D. Middleton, May 15, 2020 in WUWT
And it’s not Mauna Loa…
UH researchers reveal largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth
Posted on May 13, 2020 by Marcie Grabowski
In a recently published study, researchers from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology revealed the largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth. A team of volcanologists and ocean explorers used several lines of evidence to determine Pūhāhonu, a volcano within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, now holds this distinction.
Geoscientists and the public have long thought Mauna Loa, a culturally-significant and active shield volcano on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, was the largest volcano in the world. However, after surveying the ocean floor along the mostly submarine Hawaiian leeward volcano chain, chemically analyzing rocks in the UH Mānoa rock collection, and modeling the results of these studies, the research team came to a new conclusion. Pūhāhonu, meaning ‘turtle rising for breath’ in Hawaiian, is nearly twice as big as Mauna Loa.
“It has been proposed that hotspots that produce volcano chains like Hawai‘i undergo progressive cooling over 1-2 million years and then die,” said Michael Garcia, lead author of the study and retired professor of Earth Sciences at SOEST. “However, we have learned from this study that hotspots can undergo pulses of melt production. A small pulse created the Midway cluster of now extinct volcanoes and another, much bigger one created Pūhāhonu. This will rewrite the textbooks on how mantle plumes work.”
by Klemetti, E., May 8, 2020 in EOS
Although shallow magma storage at Erta Ale volcano hints at a rift-to-ridge transition, the tectonic future of the Afar region is far from certain.
Standing next to a lava lake at the summit of a massive volcano, Christopher Moore, a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, could see the red haze of lava flows a few kilometers away. This might seem like a rare sight, but at Ethiopia’s Erta Ale, it’s business as usual.
Are such behaviors the first signs of a tectonic transition? This question is part of what Moore has been studying at Erta Ale. The entire Afar region in eastern Africa finds itself in the middle of changes that could split the continent, forming a new ocean basin. The magmatism at Erta Ale might be offering signs of this switch by mimicking the characteristics of a mid-ocean ridge.
However, there isn’t agreement about how close the Afar region is to this tectonic transition. The geophysical characteristics of magma storage at Erta Ale could point to the region’s conversion to an incipient oceanic spreading center, but the petrology of the erupting lava might be telling us that we aren’t there yet.
by N. Routley, May 1, 2020 in VisualCapitalist
by RP Ortega, April 22, 2020 in ScienceAAAS
In May 2018, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano let loose its largest eruption in 200 years, spewing plumes of ash high into the air, and covering hundreds of homes in lava. The eruption terrified local residents, but it gave scientists a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the volcano’s explosive behavior. Now, a new study claims that extreme rainfall boosted underground pressures and was the “dominant factor” in triggering the eruption.
It’s not the first time rainfall has been linked to volcanic activity, says Jenni Barclay, a volcanologist at the University of East Anglia who was not involved in the new work. Previous research suggests storms passing over Mount St. Helens may have played a role in explosive activity between 1989 and 1991. And intense rains fell shortly before and during the activity of Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano from 2001 to 2003. Rain may have also triggered eruptions of Réunion’s Piton de la Fournaise volcano. Still, Barclay believes rain is, at best, a contributing factor to volcanic eruptions and not the main driver. “It’s a series of coincident events that have led to the triggering of this larger episode,” she says.
Researchers on the new study used satellite data from NASA and Japan’s space agency to estimate rainfall during the first months of 2018, before the start of the eruption. More than 2.25 meters of rain fell on the volcano in the first months of 2018, the researchers found. They created a model to show how the accumulated rainfall could seep into the pore spaces in rocks deep underground, boosting pressures that eventually caused fissures in the volcano’s flank to open up and release magma. When they looked at records of previous Kilauea eruptions going back to 1790, they found that 35—more than half—started during the nearly 6-month rainy season.
by D. Middleton, March 24, 2020 in WUWT
One of the things I love about writing for Watts Up With That, is the fact that reader comments often inspire me to research and write subsequent posts. In my recent post about the origins of the Moon, one commentator suggested that the rate of lunar recession (tidal acceleration) indicated that the Earth was much younger than 4.5 billion years old and/or somehow disproved the geological Principle of Uniformitarianism. I didn’t give much thought to my reply. I simply calculated the distance from the Earth to the Moon 1 billion and 4.5 billion years ago. The Moon is currently receding (moving away) from the Earth at a rate of about 3.8 cm/yr. This has been directly measured with lasers.
At 3.8 cm/yr, the Moon would have been 215,288 miles away from Earth a billion years ago. It is currently an average of 238,900 miles away. At 3.8 cm/yr, it still would have been 132,646 miles away 4.5 BY.
If the Moon did did originate from a collision with Earth, it would have been a lot closer to Earth 4.5 BY than 100,000 miles.
by R.G. Andrews, March 19, 2020 in NationalGeographic
An injection of magma under Norris Geyser Basin may be why the region is five inches higher today than it was 20 years ago.
In northwestern Wyoming, in the center of Yellowstone National Park, a bubbling caldera is the scar of a 640,000-year-old, gargantuan volcanic eruption. The 3,472-square-mile park encompassing the caldera is filled with geologic wonderlands of sprouting geysers and effervescing pools, all ultimately driven by magma and superheated fluids churning in the rock below the surface.
One of these areas, Norris Geyser Basin to the northwest of the caldera, contains more than 500 hydrothermal features. These tempestuous geysers and pools often change from day to day, but a much larger transformation has been taking place as well: For more than two decades, an area larger than Chicago centered near the basin has been inflating and deflating by several inches in erratic bursts. In a hyperactive volcanic region like Yellowstone, the exact causes of any specific movement are difficult to pin down. But a recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth may help explain why this pocket of land has been breathing in and out.
“In all likelihood, Norris has been a center of deformation for a very long time,” says Daniel Dzurisin, a research geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory and one of the co-authors of the new research.
by Duke University, January 17, 2019 in ScienceDaily/Nature
Engineers at Duke University have devised a model that can predict the early mechanical behaviors and origins of an earthquake in multiple types of rock. The model provides new insights into unobservable phenomena that take place miles beneath the Earth’s surface under incredible pressures and temperatures, and could help researchers better predict earthquakes — or even, at least theoretically, attempt to stop them.
The results appear online on January 17 in the journal Nature Communications.
“Earthquakes originate along fault lines deep underground where extreme conditions can cause chemical reactions and phase transitions that affect the friction between rocks as they move against one another,” said Hadrien Rattez, a research scientist in civil and environmental engineering at Duke. “Our model is the first that can accurately reproduce how the amount of friction decreases as the speed of the rock slippage increases and all of these mechanical phenomena are unleashed.”
For three decades, researchers have built machines to simulate the conditions of a fault by pushing and twisting two discs of rock against one another. These experiments can reach pressures of up to 1450 pounds per square inch and speeds of one meter per second, which is the fastest underground rocks can travel. For a geological reference point, the Pacific tectonic plate moves at about 0.00000000073 meters per second.
Hadrien Rattez, Manolis Veveakis. Weak phases production and heat generation control fault friction during seismic slip. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-14252-
by H. Devlin, January 15, 2020 in TheGuardian
For the first 2 billion years, life on Earth comprised two microbial kingdoms – bacteria and archaea. They featured an innumerable and diverse variety of species, but, ultimately, life on Earth was not that exciting judged by today’s standards.
Then, the theory goes, a rogue archaeon gobbled up a bacterium to create an entirely new type of cell that would go on to form the basis of all complex life on Earth, from plants to humans.
Now, for the first time, scientists have succeeded in culturing an elusive species of archaea believed to be similar to the ancestor that gave rise to the first sophisticated cells, known as eukaryotes. The work has been described as a “monumental” advance that sheds new light on this evolutionary milestone.
Nick Lane, professor of evolutionary biochemistry at UCL, described the work as “magnificent”, while a commentary by two other experts in the field said it marked a “huge breakthrough for microbiology”.
Like bacteria, archaea continue to thrive on Earth today. But despite the pivotal role they are thought to have played in the emergence of complex life there has been relatively little research on them. Many species are found in inhospitable environments and are incredibly difficult to grow in the lab.
The Japanese team behind the latest advance has dedicated 12 years to the effort, overcoming a series of setbacks along the way.
The archaeon which was cultured and characterised from deep marine sediment. Photograph: Nature
by M. Weisberger, January 7, 2020 in LiveScience
About 790,000 years ago, a meteor slammed into Earth with such force that the explosion blanketed about 10% of the planet with shiny black lumps of rocky debris. Known as tektites, these glassy blobs of melted terrestrial rock were strewn from Indochina to eastern Antarctica and from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific. For more than a century, scientists searched for evidence of the impact that created these pitted blobs.
But the crater’s location eluded detection — until now.
Geochemical analysis and local gravity readings told researchers that the crater lay in southern Laos on the Bolaven Plateau; the ancient impact was concealed under a field of cooled volcanic lava spanning nearly 2,000 square miles (5,000 square kilometers), the scientists reported in a new study.
Was the crater buried? On Laos’ Bolaven Plateau, the scientists found a site where fields of volcanic lava might have hidden signs of an older meteor impact. In a region that the researchers targeted as a likely spot for a crater, most of the lava flows were also in the right age range: between 51,000 and 780,000 years old.
The study authors peered below the lava’s surface by taking gravity readings at more than 400 locations. Their resulting gravity map showed one area “of particular interest” with a gravitational anomaly, a subsurface zone less dense than the volcanic rock surrounding it. Their measurements hinted at an elliptical, “elongated crater” about 300 feet (100 m) thick, about 8 miles (13 km) wide and 11 miles (17 km) long, according to the study.
Together, all of these clues suggested that “this thick pile of volcanic rocks does indeed bury the site of the impact,” the scientists wrote.
The findings were published online Dec. 30 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
by R.G. Andrews, December 13, 2019 in NationalGeography
Scientists scouring the lunar surface for clues to past impact rates found a bonus feature that has geologists “thoroughly confused.”
Sometime after the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, a projectile slammed into Earth’s youthful moon and formed the 620-mile-wide basin known as the Crisium basin. No one knows exactly when this impact happened, but for decades scientists have been trying to solve the puzzle as part of a larger debate over whether the moon and, by proxy, Earth endured a period of frenzied meteor bombardment in their early histories.
Now, scientists scouring the region say they’ve spotted a crater within the basin that appears to contain pristine impact melt, a type of volcanic rock that can act like a definitive geologic clock. If future astronauts or a robot could obtain a sample and tease out its age, that may help reveal what was happening on Earth during the primordial period when life first emerged on our planet.
And, as an added bonus, the discovery comes with an intriguing mystery: The basin also holds a geologic blister the size of Washington, D.C., that’s unlike anything else seen in the solar system. As the team reports in an upcoming paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, this volcanic lump appears to have been inflated and cracked by peculiar underground magmatic activity that the researchers can’t currently explain.
“I’m thoroughly confused by it,” says Clive Neal, an expert in lunar geology at the University of Notre Dame who was not involved with the new research.
by Alain Préat, 25 septembre 2019 in Science-Climat-Energie
Résumé : L’oxygène n’est pas apparu aussi brutalement qu’on le pensait sur notre planète (nb: première partie 1/2, ici).
Malgré un apport en oxygène lié aux cyanobactéries dès l’Archéen, ce ne se sont pas ces microorganismes qui sont à la base de la première grande ‘révolution’ de l’oxygène qui a eu lieu à la limite Archéen/Paléoprotérozoïque (il y a 2,5 milliards d’années) dans l’atmosphère, lors du Grand Evénement d’Oxydation. Ce sont les processus liés au cycle de la tectonique des plaques (activité mantellique et périodes intenses d’érosion/altération) qui ont contribué de manière déterminante à l’augmentation de la concentration de l’oxygène atmosphérique vers 2,5 milliards d’années. Les deux principaux processus responsables de cette augmentation sont liés à l’enfouissement de la matière organique et de la pyrite (= FeS2). L’altération des séries riches en ces deux composants conditionnera ensuite pendant près d’un milliard d’années la composition chimique des océans en oxygène, soufre et fer. Au cours du temps, l’oxygène proviendra de l’activité des cyanobactéries et l’atmosphère réductrice du début de l’Archéen sera remplacée par une atmosphère oxydante à la fin du Précambrien.
Abstract : Oxygen did not appear as abruptly as we thought on our planet.
Despite an oxygen supply related to cyanobacteria, since the Archean, it is not these microorganisms that are at the base of the first great oxygen revolution that took place at the Archean/Paleoproterozoic boundary (2.5 billion years) in the atmosphere during the Great Oxidation Event. Two processes related to the cycle of plate tectonics (mantle activity and intense periods of erosion/weathering) were mostly involved in the increase of the of atmospheric oxygen concentration 2.5 billion years ago. These two main processes are related to the burial of organic matter and those of pyrite(= FeS2) The alteration of series with high contents of the two elements will then condition for nearly a billion of years the oxygen, sulfur and iron chemical composition of the oceans. The oxygen will finally come from the activity of cyanobacteria and the early Archean reducing atmosphere will be replaced by an oxidizing atmosphere at the end of the Precambrian.