#UniversityofCambridge; #ChemistryOfAncientRocks; #EarthAndMoonFormation
England/Canadian-Media: New research led by the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) has found rare evidence—preserved in the chemistry of ancient rocks from Greenland—which tells of a time when Earth was almost entirely molten.
At first glance the rocks that make up Greenland's Isua supracrustal belt look just like any modern basalt you'd find on the sea floor. But this outcrop, which was first described in the 1960s, is the oldest exposure of rocks on Earth. It is known to contain the earliest evidence of microbial life and plate tectonics. Credit: Hanika Rizo
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, yields information on a important period in our planet's formation, when a deep sea of incandescent magma stretched across Earth's surface and extended hundreds of kilometers into its interior.
It is the gradual cooling and crystallization of this 'magma ocean' that set the chemistry of Earth's interior—a defining stage in the assembly of our planet's structure and the formation of our early atmosphere.
Scientists know that catastrophic impacts during the formation of the Earth and Moon would have generated enough energy to melt our planet's interior. But we don't know much about this distant and fiery phase of Earth's history because tectonic processes have recycled almost all rocks older than 4 billion years.
Now researchers have found the chemical remnants of the magma ocean in 3.6-billion-year-old rocks from southwestern Greenland.
The findings support the long-held theory that Earth was once almost entirely molten and provide a window into a time when the planet started to solidify and develop the chemistry that now governs its internal structure. The research suggests that other rocks on Earth's surface may also preserve evidence of ancient magma oceans.
"There are few opportunities to get geological constraints on the events in the first billion years of Earth's history. It's astonishing that we can even hold these rocks in our hands—let alone get so much detail about the early history of our planet," said lead author Dr. Helen Williams, from Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences.
The study brings forensic chemical analysis together with thermodynamic modelling in search of the primeval origins of the Greenland rocks, and how they got to the surface.
At first glance, the rocks that make up Greenland's Isua supracrustal belt look just like any modern basalt you'd find on the sea floor. But this outcrop, which was first described in the 1960s, is the oldest exposure of rocks on Earth. It is known to contain the earliest evidence of microbial life and plate tectonics.
The new research shows that the Isua rocks also preserve rare evidence which even predates plate tectonics—the residues of some of the crystals left behind as that magma ocean cooled.
"It was a combination of some new chemical analyses we did and the previously published data that flagged to us that the Isua rocks might contain traces of ancient material. The hafnium and neodymium isotopes were really tantalizing, because those isotope systems are very hard to modify—so we had to look at their chemistry in more detail," said co-author Dr. Hanika Rizo, from Carleton University.
Iron isotopic systematics confirmed to Williams and the team that the Isua rocks were derived from parts of the Earth's interior that formed as a consequence of magma ocean crystallization.
Most of this primeval rock has been mixed up by convection in the mantle, but scientists think that some isolated zones deep at the mantle-core boundary—ancient crystal graveyards—may have remained undisturbed for billions of years.
It's the relics of these crystal graveyards that Williams and her colleagues observed in the Isua rock chemistry. "Those samples with the iron fingerprint also have a tungsten anomaly—a signature of Earth's formation—which makes us think that their origin can be traced back to these primeval crystals," said Williams.
But how did these signals from the deep mantle find their way up to the surface? Their isotopic makeup shows they were not just funnelled up from melting at the core-mantle boundary. Their journey was more circuitous, involving several stages of crystallization and remelting—a kind of distillation process. The mix of ancient crystals and magma would have first migrated to the upper mantle, where it was churned up to create a 'marble cake' of rocks from different depths. Later melting of that hybrid of rocks is what produced the magma which fed this part of Greenland.
The team's findings suggest that modern hotspot volcanoes, which are thought to have formed relatively recently, may actually be influenced by ancient processes.
"The geochemical signals we report in the Greenland rocks bear similarities to rocks erupted from hotspot volcanoes like Hawaii—something we are interested in is whether they might also be tapping into the depths and accessing regions of the interior usually beyond our reach," said Dr. Oliver Shorttle, who is jointly based at Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences and Institute of Astronomy.
The team's findings came out of a project funded by Deep Volatiles, a NERC-funded 5-year research program. They now plan to continue their quest to understand the magma ocean by widening their search for clues in ancient rocks and experimentally modelling isotopic fractionation in the lower mantle.
"We've been able to unpick what one part of our planet's interior was doing billions of years ago, but to fill in the picture further we must keep searching for more chemical clues in ancient rocks," said co-author Dr. Simon Matthews from the University of Iceland.
Scientists have often been reluctant to look for chemical evidence of these ancient events. "The evidence is often altered by the course of time. But the fact we found what we did suggests that the chemistry of other ancient rocks may yield further insights into the Earth's formation and evolution—and that's immensely exciting," said Williams.
Indian agriculture: Groundwater depletion could reduce winter cropped acreage significantly in years
#IndianAgridulture; #Irrigation; #MichiganUnivResearch; #Environment; #Sustainability
Michigan/Canadian-Media: According to Michigan University research, India is the world's second-largest producer of wheat and rice and is home to more than 600 million farmers, Phys.org news reports said.
Tube well irrigation in Gujarat, India. Credit: Meha Jain
The country has achieved impressive food-production gains since the 1960s, due in part to an increased reliance on irrigation wells, which allowed Indian farmers to expand production into the mostly dry winter and summer seasons.
But those gains have come at a cost: The country that produces 10% of the world's crops is now the world's largest consumer of groundwater, and aquifers are rapidly becoming depleted across much of India.
Indian government officials have suggested that switching from groundwater-depleting wells to irrigation canals, which divert surface water from lakes and rivers, is one way to overcome projected shortfalls.
But in a study scheduled for publication Feb. 24 in the journal Science Advances, a University of Michigan researcher and her colleagues conclude that a switch to canal irrigation will not fully compensate for the expected loss of groundwater in Indian agriculture.
The authors estimate that if Indian farmers lose all access to groundwater in overexploited regions, and if that irrigation water is not replaced with water from other sources, then winter cropped acreage could be reduced by up to 20% nationwide. However, that scenario seems highly unlikely and was included in the study only as an upper-bound estimate.
It seems more likely that any future groundwater shortfalls would be at least partially offset by increases in canal irrigation. But even if all Indian regions currently using depleted groundwater switch to canal irrigation, winter cropped acreage could still decline by 7% nationwide and by 24% in the most severely affected locations, according to the researchers.
"Our results highlight the critical importance of groundwater for Indian agriculture and rural livelihoods, and we were able to show that simply providing canal irrigation as a substitute irrigation source will likely not be enough to maintain current production levels in the face of groundwater depletion," said study lead author Meha Jain of the University of Michigan.
The study analyzed high-resolution satellite imagery and village-level census data and focused on winter cropped acreage. While nearly all Indian farmers plant crops during the monsoon to take advantage of seasonal rains, winter agriculture is mainly reliant on groundwater irrigation and now accounts for 44% of the country's annual cropped acreage for food grains.
"These findings suggest that other adaptation strategies, in addition to canal expansion, are needed to cope with ongoing groundwater losses," said Jain, an assistant professor at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.
Maps showing state-by-state Indian winter cropped area loss estimates due to groundwater depletion in coming decades, with and without replacement by canals. Darker shades of pink and red indicate greater projected losses. The map on the left (A) shows projected winter cropped acreage losses if all critically depleted groundwater is lost, with no replacement. Map on the right (B) shows projected winter cropped acreage losses if groundwater irrigation is replaced with canals (using national-level regression coefficients). Credit: Jain et al. in Science Advances 2021.
The possibilities include switching from winter rice to less water-intensive cereals, increased adoption of sprinklers and drip irrigation to conserve water in the fields, and policies to increase the efficiency of irrigation canals.
While groundwater depletion is becoming a global threat to food security, and the extent of current and projected groundwater depletion are well documented, the potential impacts on food production remain poorly quantified.
The study by Jain and colleagues is the first to use high-resolution empirical data, including census data about the irrigation methods used in more than 500,000 Indian villages, to estimate the crop production losses that may occur when overexploited groundwater is lost.
The proliferation of deep (>100 feet) irrigation wells called tube wells since the 1960s has enabled Indian farmers to increase the number of seasons when crops are planted in a given year. This increase in "cropping intensity" is credited for much of the country's food-production gains.
The researchers used satellite data to measure Indian winter cropped area, a key determinant of cropping intensity. They then linked the satellite data to census information about the three main types of irrigation infrastructure in India: shallow "dug wells," deeper tube wells and canals that divert surface water.
Linking the two datasets allowed them to determine the relative efficacy of each irrigation method. That, in turn, enabled them to estimate potential future acreage losses and the ability of canal expansion to fill the gap.
The study's worst-case scenario found that winter cropped area could decrease by up to 20% nationwide and by 68% in the most severely affected regions, if farmers lose all access to groundwater and if that irrigation water is not replaced from another source. The expected losses would largely occur in northwest and central India, according to the study.
The researchers also found that increased distance from existing irrigation canals is strongly associated with decreased acreage planted with winter crops. In the future, a greater reliance on canals could increase inequities related to irrigation access, according to the authors.
"This suggests that while canals may be a viable form of irrigation for those who live near canals, they may lead to more unequal access to irrigation across villages compared to wells, with negative impacts for those who live farther from canals," the authors wrote.
In addition, the lakes and rivers that feed irrigation canals rise and fall in response to rainfall variability, unlike deep groundwater wells. So, a greater reliance on canal irrigation in the future would result in increased sensitivity to year-to-year precipitation fluctuations, as well as any long-term trends due to human-caused climate change.
"Understanding the complex relationship between food security and water availability is crucial as we prepare for future rainfall variability due to global climate change," said co-author Gillian Galford of the University of Vermont.
#Asteroid; #Research; #DinosaursExtinction
New York/Canadian-Media: Researchers believe they have closed the case of what killed the dinosaurs, definitively linking their extinction with an asteroid that slammed into Earth 66 million years ago by finding a key piece of evidence: asteroid dust inside the impact crater, phys.org news reports said.
Dust from the asteroid impact was blown into the atmosphere where it blocked out the sun and led to the extinction of 75% of life, including all non-avian dinosaurs. Image: Willgard Krause. Image credit: Pixabay
Death by asteroid rather than by a series of volcanic eruptions or some other global calamity has been the leading hypothesis since the 1980s, when scientists found asteroid dust in the geologic layer that marks the extinction of the dinosaurs. This discovery painted an apocalyptic picture of dust from the vaporized asteroid and rocks from impact circling the planet, blocking out the sun and bringing about mass death through a dark, sustained global winter—all before drifting back to Earth to form the layer enriched in asteroid material that's visible today.
In the 1990s, the connection was strengthened with the discovery of a 125-mile-wide Chicxulub impact crater beneath the Gulf of Mexico that is the same age as the rock layer. The new study seals the deal, researchers said, by finding asteroid dust with a matching chemical fingerprint within that crater at the precise geological location that marks the time of the extinction.
"The circle is now finally complete," said Steven Goderis, a geochemistry professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, who led the study published in Science Advances on Feb. 24.
The crater left by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs is located in the Yucatán Peninsula and is called Chicxulub after a nearby town. Part of the crater is offshore and part of it is on land. The crater is buried beneath many layers of rock and sediment. A 2016 mission led by the International Ocean Discovery Program extracted rock cores from the offshore portion of the crater. Credit: The University of Texas at Austin/Jackson School of Geosciences/ Google Maps
The study is the latest to come from a 2016 International Ocean Discovery Program mission co-led by The University of Texas at Austin that collected nearly 3,000 feet of rock core from the crater buried under the seafloor. Research from this mission has helped fill in gaps about the impact, the aftermath and the recovery of life.
The telltale sign of asteroid dust is the element iridium—which is rare in the Earth's crust, but present at elevated levels in certain types of asteroids. An iridium spike in the geologic layer found all over the world is how the asteroid hypothesis was born. In the new study, researchers found a similar spike in a section of rock pulled from the crater. In the crater, the sediment layer deposited in the days to years after the strike is so thick that scientists were able to precisely date the dust to a mere two decades after impact.
"We are now at the level of coincidence that geologically doesn't happen without causation," said co-author Sean Gulick, a research professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences who co-led the 2016 expedition with Joanna Morgan of Imperial College London. "It puts to bed any doubts that the iridium anomaly [in the geologic layer] is not related to the Chicxulub crater."
The dust is all that remains of the 7-mile-wide asteroid that slammed into the planet millions of years ago, triggering the extinction of 75% of life on Earth, including all nonavian dinosaurs.
Researchers estimate that the dust kicked up by the impact circulated in the atmosphere for no more than a couple of decades—which, Gulick points out, helps time how long extinction took.
"If you're actually going to put a clock on extinction 66 million years ago, you could easily make an argument that it all happened within a couple of decades, which is basically how long it takes for everything to starve to death," he said.
The highest concentrations of iridium were found within a 5-centimeter section of the rock core retrieved from the top of the crater's peak ring—a high-elevation point in the crater that formed when rocks rebounded then collapsed from the force of impact.
The iridium analysis was carried out by labs in Austria, Belgium, Japan and the United States.
"We combined the results from four independent laboratories around the world to make sure we got this right," said Goderis.
A section of rock core pulled from the crater left by the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Researchers found high concentrations of the element iridium –a marker for asteroid material –in the middle section of the core that contains a mixture of ash from the impact and ocean sediment deposited over decades. The iridium is measured in parts per billion. Credit: International Ocean Discovery Program.
In addition to iridium, the crater section showed elevated levels of other elements associated with asteroid material. The concentration and composition of these "asteroid elements" resembled measurements taken from the geologic layer at 52 sites around the world.
The core section and geologic layer also have earthbound elements in common, including sulfurous compounds. A 2019 study found that sulfur-bearing rocks are missing from much of the rest of the core despite being present in large volumes in the surrounding limestone. This indicates that the impact blew the original sulfur into the atmosphere, where it may have made a bad situation worse by exacerbating global cooling and seeding acid rain.
Gulick and colleagues at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and Bureau of Economic Geology—both units of the UT Jackson School—plan to return to the crater this summer to begin surveying sites at its center, where they hope to plan a future drilling effort to recover more asteroid material.
#Archaeology; #Pompeii; #Italy; #Naples; #CeremonialChariot
New York/Canadian-Media: Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy announced Saturday the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig, phys.org reported.
A view of a chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, that was found in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii. Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site near Naples on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, announced the first-ever discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park following an investigation into an illegal dig. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP
The chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii, beyond the walls of the ancient city, parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses previously were discovered.
The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot "an exceptional discovery" and said "it represents a unique find—which has no parallel in Italy thus far—in an excellent state of preservation."
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii. The chariot was spared when the walls and roof of the structure it was in collapsed, and also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to park officials.
The chariot was found on the grounds of what is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea. on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.
Archaeologists last year found in the same area on the outskirts of Pompeii, Civita Giulian, the skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, attempting to escape death.
A detail of the decoration of a chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, that was found in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii. Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site near Naples on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, announced the first-ever discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park following an investigation into an illegal dig. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP
The chariot's first iron element emerged on Jan. 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-story portico. Archaeologists believe the cart was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.
While chariots for daily life or the transport of agricultural products have been previously found at Pompeii, officials said the new find is the first ceremonial chariot unearthed in its entirety.
The villa was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are currently on trial for allegedly digging more than 80 meters of tunnels at the site.