Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Where does all Earth's gold come from? Precious metals the result of meteorite bombardment, rock analysis finds

Date:
September 9, 2011
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
Ultra high precision analyses of some of the oldest rock samples on Earth provides clear evidence that the planet's accessible reserves of precious metals are the result of a bombardment of meteorites more than 200 million years after Earth was formed.

Gold.
Credit: Martin Kreutz / Fotolia

Ultra high precision analyses of some of the oldest rock samples on Earth by researchers at the University of Bristol provides clear evidence that the planet's accessible reserves of precious metals are the result of a bombardment of meteorites more than 200 million years after Earth was formed.

The research is published in Nature.

During the formation of Earth, molten iron sank to its centre to make the core. This took with it the vast majority of the planet's precious metals -- such as gold and platinum. In fact, there are enough precious metals in the core to cover the entire surface of Earth with a four-metre thick layer.

The removal of gold to the core should leave the outer portion of Earth bereft of bling. However, precious metals are tens to thousands of times more abundant in Earth's silicate mantle than anticipated. It has previously been argued that this serendipitous over-abundance results from a cataclysmic meteorite shower that hit Earth after the core formed. The full load of meteorite gold was thus added to the mantle alone and not lost to the deep interior.

To test this theory, Dr Matthias Willbold and Professor Tim Elliott of the Bristol Isotope Group in the School of Earth Sciences analysed rocks from Greenland that are nearly four billion years old, collected by Professor Stephen Moorbath of the University of Oxford. These ancient rocks provide a unique window into the composition of our planet shortly after the formation of the core but before the proposed meteorite bombardment.

The researchers determined the tungsten isotopic composition of these rocks. Tungsten (W) is a very rare element (one gram of rock contains only about one ten-millionth of a gram of tungsten) and, like gold and other precious elements, it should have entered the core when it formed. Like most elements, tungsten is composed of several isotopes, atoms with the same chemical characteristics but slightly different masses. Isotopes provide robust fingerprints of the origin of material and the addition of meteorites to Earth would leave a diagnostic mark on its W isotope composition.

Dr Willbold observed a 15 parts per million decrease in the relative abundance of the isotope 182W between the Greenland and modern day rocks. This small but significant change is in excellent agreement with that required to explain the excess of accessible gold on Earth as the fortunate by-product of meteorite bombardment.

Dr Willbold said: "Extracting tungsten from the rock samples and analysing its isotopic composition to the precision required was extremely demanding given the small amount of tungsten available in rocks. In fact, we are the first laboratory world-wide that has successfully made such high-quality measurements."

The impacting meteorites were stirred into Earth's mantle by gigantic convection processes. A tantalising target for future work is to study how long this process took. Subsequently, geological processes formed the continents and concentrated the precious metals (and tungsten) in ore deposits which are mined today.

Dr Willbold continued: "Our work shows that most of the precious metals on which our economies and many key industrial processes are based have been added to our planet by lucky coincidence when the Earth was hit by about 20 billion billion tonnes of asteroidal material."

This research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthias Willbold, Tim Elliott, Stephen Moorbath. The tungsten isotopic composition of the Earth’s mantle before the terminal bombardment. Nature, 2011; 477 (7363): 195 DOI: 10.1038/nature10399

Cite This Page:

University of Bristol. "Where does all Earth's gold come from? Precious metals the result of meteorite bombardment, rock analysis finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907132044.htm>.
University of Bristol. (2011, September 9). Where does all Earth's gold come from? Precious metals the result of meteorite bombardment, rock analysis finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907132044.htm
University of Bristol. "Where does all Earth's gold come from? Precious metals the result of meteorite bombardment, rock analysis finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907132044.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Organic Fertilizer Helps Reforestation of Monarch Butterflies’ Winter Retreat

New Organic Fertilizer Helps Reforestation of Monarch Butterflies’ Winter Retreat

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 20, 2014) Using an organic fertiliser, a conservationist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), leads an award-winning project to reforest the sanctuary of monarch butterflies. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins