Silver Doesn’t Grow on Trees: The Quest for the Ores that Formed Roman Coinage

Featured image: A silver Roman Denarius, featuring the likeness of emperor Marcus Aurelius. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Paper: Silver isotope and volatile trace element systematics in galena samples from the Iberian Peninsula and the quest for silver sources of Roman coinage

Authors: Jean Milot; Janne Blichert-Toft; Mariano Ayarzagüena Sanz; Chloé Malod-Dognin; Philippe Télouk; Francis Albarède

The Roman Empire was a superpower thousands of years ago, and with great power comes great (fiscal) responsibilities, including minting the money. To mint silver coins, the Romans needed vast amounts of silver, which historians and archeologists believe originated in the Iberian Peninsula, or present-day Spain and Portugal. However, the geologic origin of that silver is unknown as the depleted mines were abandoned long ago.

Continue reading “Silver Doesn’t Grow on Trees: The Quest for the Ores that Formed Roman Coinage”

What caused the end-Triassic Mass Extinction in the Oceans?

Feature Image: Outcrop of volcanic rock associated with the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province. This Large Igneous Province has a strong correlation to the onset of a mass extinction ~200 million years ago, however, an exact mechanism for the extinction has been difficult to determine. CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Paper: Two-pronged kill mechanism at the end-Triassic mass extinction

Authors: Calum P. Fox; Jessica H. Whiteside; Paul E. Olsen; Xingquian Cui; Roger E. Summons; Kliti Grice

Journal: Geology

A recent study by Calum Fox and colleagues sheds light on what caused one of the “big five” mass extinctions on Earth since complex life emerged ~540 million years ago. They found that repeated pulses of volcanic activity were responsible for the extinction in two main ways: ocean poisoning caused by gaseous hydrogen sulfide (H2S) rising through the water column (known as euxinia) and ocean acidification.

Continue reading “What caused the end-Triassic Mass Extinction in the Oceans?”

Metal-Eating Microbes Who Breathe Methane

Featured Image: Murky pond in Alaska with “rusty” iron-filled sediments. Image courtesy Jessica Buser. Used with permission.

Paper:  Sulfate- and iron-dependent anaerobic methane oxidation occurring side-by-side in freshwater lake sediment

Authors: Alina Mostovaya, Michael Wind-Hansen, Paul Rousteau, Laura A. Bristow, Bo Thamdrup

The table has been set and the food is all prepared. But this is no ordinary dinner party, it’s a microbe party! The guests sit down and proceed to dig into the main course; sulfur, rusty iron, and methane. Curiously, the guests are feeding each other, not themselves! This image seems pretty weird to us humans, but it’s a delight to these microbes. This collaborative method of eating occurs in pond and lake mud all around the world. In a new study, Mostovaya and colleagues describe one such feast in Danish Lake Ørn, that is not only collaborative but may mitigate climate change.

Continue reading “Metal-Eating Microbes Who Breathe Methane”

Buried treasure in the oceans: chemistry of small deep-sea crystals hints at past carbon cycling

Featured image: Crystals of the mineral barite from the deep ocean (Adapted from Kastner (1999)). These crystals precipitated in ocean sediments and are about 9 million years old, similar in age to some of the barite samples from the study discussed here.

Paper: A 35-million-year record of seawater stable Sr isotopes reveals a fluctuating global carbon cycle

Authors: Adina Paytan, Elizabeth M. Griffith, Anton Eisenhauer, Mathis P. Hain, Klaus Wallmann, Andrew Ridgwell

What do ancient ocean sediments and the walls around x-ray machines have in common? One possible answer? Sometimes the mineral barite is an important part of both!  Barite (or barium sulfate) is able to block gamma and x-ray emissions, and therefore is sometimes used in high-density concrete in hospitals and laboratories. In the deep ocean, tiny crystals of barite naturally accumulate on the seafloor over time, particularly in regions ideal for this mineral formation where many decaying remains of organisms sink to the seafloor. The chemistry of this barite can give scientists clues into Earth’s past, which is what Adina Paytan and her colleagues did in this study.

Continue reading “Buried treasure in the oceans: chemistry of small deep-sea crystals hints at past carbon cycling”

Life on Mars: a non-traditional source for warmer waters

Hydrothermal vent on the right spewing water into a river on the left. Background has trees and sky. From Yellowstone National Park.

Article: Amagmatic hydrothermal systems on Mars from radiogenic heat

Authors: L. Ojha, S. Karunatillake, S. Karimi, and J. Buffo

Many people are familiar with Yellowstone National Park’s famous geyser, Old Faithful – but did you know that the heat fueling Old Faithful’s eruptions are from magma chambers that warm up underground fluids until they shoot out of the ground? Hydrothermal systems like this are found in other places, too, and can be fueled by different kinds of heat sources. In fact, scientists at Rutgers University have recently identified one such heat source – the heat generated by radioactive decay from certain chemical elements – that could help answer questions about whether liquid water, a critical component for life as we know it, could exist on Mars.

Continue reading “Life on Mars: a non-traditional source for warmer waters”

Tiny Crystals, Big Story: Time capsules from the Early Mars

Featured Image: Zircon grain under the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Image used with permission from Wikipedia (Emmanuel Roquette).

Article: The internal structure and geodynamics of Mars inferred from a 4.2-Gyr zircon record.

Authors: Maria M. Costa, Ninna K. Jensen, Laura C. Bouvier, James N. Connelly, Takashi Mikouchi, Matthew S. A. Horstwood, Jussi-Petteri Suuronen, Frédéric Moynier, Zhengbin Deng, Arnaud Agranier, Laure A. J. Martin, Tim E. Johnson, Alexander A. Nemchin, and Martin Bizzarro

While sitting in Geology 101 studying the geological time scale, most of us have gone through this experience where we imagined ourselves going back in time; visualizing mammoths passing by, dinosaurs hunting and fighting. But all these pictures start to become hazy and unclear when we reach close to 4 billion years. It is the time for which we have no rock records, and this is where zircons or what I would like to call “tiny survivors” comes in.

Continue reading “Tiny Crystals, Big Story: Time capsules from the Early Mars”

Cooking up crystals in record time

Featured image: Example of the rock type Pegmatite. Here, crystals of the mineral tourmaline (light-dark green color), and crystals of the mineral lepidolite (pink-purple color) can be seen, sourced from Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Paper: Episodes of fast crystal growth in pegmatites

Authors: Patrick R. Phelps, Cin-Ty A. Lee, Douglas M. Morton

Anyone who has ever wandered along a pebble-ridden beach or a mountainous trail has likely picked up a rock or two, and maybe these rocks contained an array of different crystals (see image above). Perhaps these rocks then skipped along the surface of a still lake, or made their way into the pockets of a snack-ridden backpack, either to never be seen again or to be added to an ever-growing rock collection. Yet, these little pieces of Earth’s history have the potential to do so much more. With the right tools, the crystals within these rocks can be used to inform us of the geological processes that have shaped our planet Earth.

Continue reading “Cooking up crystals in record time”

To P, not to P? That is (an oversimplification of) the biogeochemical question—

Paper: Unraveling biogeochemical phosphorus dynamics in hyperarid Mars‐analogue soils using stable oxygen isotopes in phosphate

Authors: Jianxun Shen, Andrew C. Smith, Mark W. Claire, Aubrey L. Zerkle

Many geologists believe that ancient Mars, with its warmer temperatures and water-rich environment, may have been home to life. To test this hypothesis, astrobiologists must find signifiers of life that can survive the billions of years of hyperaridity experienced on the Martian surface. One such method could be identifying biotic alteration of the geochemical cycling of phosphorus, as was highly publicized during the recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Researchers have taken the first step in this search by characterizing biological phosphorus cycling in the analog environment of the Atacama Desert – an endeavor that has applied novel techniques in chemistry to provide insights about the movement of phosphorus in arid environments.

Continue reading “To P, not to P? That is (an oversimplification of) the biogeochemical question—”

Muddy waters lead to decreased oxygen in Chesapeake Bay

Featured Image: Plumes of muddy, sediment-laden water at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, MD. Photo courtesy of Jane Thomas/ IAN, UMCES.

Paper: Seabed Resuspension in the Chesapeake Bay: Implications for Biogeochemical Cycling and Hypoxia
Authors: Julia Moriarty, Marjorie Friedrichs, Courtney Harris

A memorable feature of the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the USA, is that the water is very murky and looks like chocolate milk. Former Senator Bernie Fowler has conducted public “wade-ins” over the past 50 years in one of the Bay’s tributaries, seeing how deep the water is before he can no longer see his white tennis shoes, and let’s just say it is never very deep. This is because of the high concentrations of sediment, or small particles of sand and organic material, in the water. Besides making it harder for seagrasses to grow and serving as food for the economically-important oyster, sediment impacts the biological processes that determine how much oxygen and nutrients are available in the water for algae and fish.

Continue reading “Muddy waters lead to decreased oxygen in Chesapeake Bay”

Unveiling the Mysterious Patterns of Arctic Cobalt

Featured Image: Fractured sea ice. Image courtesy Pink Floyd 88 a, accessed through Wikimedia Commons GNU Free Documentation License

Paper: Elevated sources of cobalt in the Arctic Ocean

Authors: Randelle Bundy, Alessandro Tagliabue, Nicholas Hawco, Peter Morton, Benjamin Twining, Mariko Hatta, Abigail Noble, Mattia Cape, Seth John, Jay Cullen, Mak Saito

Imagine navigating the Beaufort Sea to the North Pole, crossing icy and treacherous waters through the untamed North, all to chase a metal that is so rare that you have a better chance of finding 5 grains of sand in an Olympic swimming pool*. This is exactly what Bundy et al. accomplished in their work identifying cobalt amounts in the Arctic Ocean and how these amounts vary based on ocean depth, distance from land, and over a time period of 6 years.

Continue reading “Unveiling the Mysterious Patterns of Arctic Cobalt”