Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Lava erupting on sea floor linked to deep-carbon cycle

Date:
May 2, 2013
Source:
Smithsonian
Summary:
Scientists have found unsuspected linkages between the oxidation state of iron in volcanic rocks and variations in the chemistry of the deep Earth. Not only do the trends run counter to predictions from recent decades of study, they belie a role for carbon circulating in the deep Earth.

Molten magma erupted onto the seafloor freezes to glass that contains clues to its origin in Earth's deep interior and ancient past (field of view ~1 cm). Volcanic glasses like this one may reveal a link between Earth's oxidation state and the deep carbon cycle.
Credit: Glenn Macpherson and Tim Gooding

Scientists from the Smithsonian and the University of Rhode Island have found unsuspected linkages between the oxidation state of iron in volcanic rocks and variations in the chemistry of the deep Earth. Not only do the trends run counter to predictions from recent decades of study, they belie a role for carbon circulating in the deep Earth.

The team's research was published May 2 in Science Express.

Elizabeth Cottrell, lead author and research geologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and Katherine Kelley at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography measured the oxidation state of iron, which is the amount of iron that has a 3+ versus a 2+ electronic charge, in bits of magma that froze to a glass when they hit the freezing waters and crushing pressures of the sea floor. Due to the high precision afforded by the spectroscopic technique they used, the researchers found very subtle variations in the iron-oxidation state that had been overlooked by previous investigations.

The variations correlate with what Cottrell described as the "fingerprints" of the deep Earth rocks that melted to produce the lavas -- but not in the way previous researchers had predicted. The erupted lavas that have lower concentrations of 3+ iron also have higher concentrations of elements such as barium, thorium, rubidium and lanthanum, that concentrate in the lavas, rather than staying in their deep Earth home. More importantly, the oxidation state of iron also correlates with elements that became enriched in lavas long ago, and now, after billions of years, show elevated ratios of radiogenic isotopes. Because radiogenic isotopic ratios cannot be modified during rock melting and eruption, Cottrell called this "a dead ringer for the source of the melt itself."

Carbon is one of the "geochemical goodies" that tends to become enriched in the lava when rocks melt. "Despite is importance to life on this planet, carbon is a really tricky element to get a handle on in melts from the deep Earth," said Cottrell. "That is because carbon also volatilizes and is lost to the ocean waters such that it can't easily be quantified in the lavas themselves. As humans we are very focused on what we see up here on the surface. Most people probably don't recognize that the vast majority of carbon -- the backbone of all life -- is located in the deep Earth, below the surface -- maybe even 90 percent of it."

The rocks that the team analyzed that were reduced also showed a greater influence of having melted in the presence of carbon than those that were oxidized. "And this makes sense because for every atom of carbon present at depth it has to steal oxygen away from iron as it ascends toward the surface," said Cottrell. This is because carbon is not associated with oxygen at depth, it exists on its own, like in the mineral diamond. But by the time carbon erupts in lava, it is surrounded by oxygen. In this way, concludes Cottrell, "carbon provides both a mechanism to reduce the iron and also a reasonable explanation for why these reduced lavas are enriched in ways we might expect from melting a carbon-bearing rock."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Elizabeth Cottrell and Katherine A. Kelley. Redox Heterogeneity in Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalts as a Function of Mantle Source. Science, 2 May 2013 DOI: 10.1126/science.1233299

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian. "Lava erupting on sea floor linked to deep-carbon cycle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130502192215.htm>.
Smithsonian. (2013, May 2). Lava erupting on sea floor linked to deep-carbon cycle. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130502192215.htm
Smithsonian. "Lava erupting on sea floor linked to deep-carbon cycle." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130502192215.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
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:
from the past week

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