November 8, 2013
Volcanic Rock Research Sheds New Light On Earth’s Formation
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
By analyzing basalt, a substance formed from cooling lava, a team of European scientists have gained new insight into how the Earth’s core, crust and atmosphere formed, as well as how volcanic activity originated.
Their goal was to develop a timeline of exactly how the planet and its atmosphere originally formed. Writing in the journal Nature, the investigators explain how they used high-tech laboratories in order to recreate conditions of the Earth’s core at the time.
The study authors placed basalt under pressures equal to approximately one billion times that of the planet’s atmosphere and temperatures above 2000 Celsius (3632F). They found that under those conditions, silicon atoms in basalt change the way in which they form bonds, resulting in a denser magma.
“Their discovery helps pinpoint how magma behaves deep in the Earth and is a missing piece in the puzzle of how Earth's core formed,” the University of Edinburgh, one of the institutions contributing to the research, said in a statement Wednesday. It added that the findings support “current theories of how and when our planet evolved.”
“Modern labs make it possible for scientists to recreate conditions deep in the Earth's core, and give us valuable insight into how materials behave at such extremes. This helps us build on what we already know about how Earth formed,” added Dr. Chrystele Sanloup, a research fellow in the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy and one of the study’s authors.
The research project was supported by the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA) and the European Research Council (ERC), and the work was carried out at the DESY Photon Science facility at Hamburg, the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) in Paris, VU University Amsterdam, and Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt.