Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Volcanic Trace Metals



Volcano ‘pollution’ solves mercury mystery

Scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge have discovered how volatile metals from volcanoes end up in polar ice cores.

‘It has always been a mystery how trace metals, like mercury, with a volcanic signature find their way into polar ice in regions without nearby evidence of volcanic activity,’ said Dr David Pyle of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences who led the research team with colleague Dr Tamsin Mather. ‘These traces only appear as a faint ‘background signal’ in ice cores but up until now it has still been difficult to explain.’

The team sampled the fumes of two volcanoes; Mount Etna in Sicily and Masaya in Nicaragua. They pumped gases from the edges of the volcanic craters across some gold-plated sand, to measure the volatile metal mercury, and through very fine filters, to capture fume particles. They discovered that the gases at both volcanoes contain high levels of mercury vapour, and that the fume is also very rich in tiny particles, as small as 10-20 nanometres in size.

‘This is exciting and important since we didn’t know that volcanoes were a natural source of particles as small as this,’ said Dr Rob Martin of the University of Cambridge. ‘The existence of these particles is potentially very important for the climate system – they may control how clouds form, and how much solar energy reaches the Earth’s surface. ...

'That one vent of one volcano can produce 7 tonnes of mercury a year is astounding,’ said Oxford’s Dr Melanie Witt, ‘that’s considerably more than total industrial emissions of mercury from the UK – recorded at about 5.5 tonnes in 2000. It confirms our suspicions that volcanoes are an important part of the global mercury cycle: what we need to understand next is where this mercury ends up and what effects it may have on the environment.’
To the average sedimentary geologist the most basic scientific phenomena are absolute mysteries. Competent volcanologists have realized the scientific importance of volcanoes since 1804.

9 comments:

Anaconda said...

THE FULL MONTE: GOING BACK TO A GIANT SNOWBALL EARTH

AND HOW ABIOTIC THEORY ANSWERS THE RIDDLE

Apparently, scientists believe the Earth was wrapped in ice like a giant snowball about a billion years ago. This raised a couple of questions for the scientists: What caused the Earth to be wrapped in ice and what finally brought the Earth out of this mother of all ice ages?

Seeing this article reminded me how much material volcanoes throw into the atmosphere. And, of course, how much scientists don't know about the Earth and its chemical and physical processes, particularly going back in time to the Earth's early formation.

The mystery is understandable, as this was long before humans walked the Earth or anything walked the Earth for that matter.

Even to think about it seems almost like an "out of body" experience, so removed are we, today, from the Earth, a billion years ago.

But this also provides a "window" on how powerful Abiotic Theory is in providing a plausible hypothesis.

The Earth's forces have always been as Winston Churchill said of Russia. "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

This snowball Earth is one of those "mysteries" (I'm not sure how the scientists even know about this "snowball" Earth, but that's what they report).

Here is an Abiotic Theory hypothesis:

Very early in Earth's history there was no atmosphere. Earth was a baren rock with the icy cold of space penetrating right down to the surface (scientists now believe Earth had a cold formation).

The vacuum of space is very cold and like the space shuttle today, it is hot in the Sun's light, but "freeze your butt off cold" in the shadow of night.

So back when Earth was was young and had this alternating hot and cold regimen. It was "radically" different from today. Nothing in Earth's present geological state can explain this frigid past.

It was Cataclysmically different from today.

At some point the Earth began erupting materials from its depths, much like the volcanoes in today's post.

But with the 'big chill" of space down to the surface, emanations were instantly frozen, if water were a part of the expulsions then it would freeze and if other particles come out into this "near space" it would tend to "hug" to the Earth's surface as a function of gravity, although gasses also would be ripped away in the Solar Wind, but these particles also tended to block out the sunlight even during a shortened day -- as the Earth spun faster at this time so both day and night were shorter.

As the water vapor? came "pouring" out in cataclysmic "outgassings" it would freeze causing an ice blanket, concomitantly nitrogen gas and other gasses (methane?) would also outgas, so over the course of time -- millions of years -- the snowball grew and a proto-atmosphere along with it.

An accretion built up over time -- much like a volcano growing, struggling to break the surface of the sea -- sometimes breeching the sea only to collaspe and fall back again, but the accretion spasmodically struggles on, always struggles on.

Now this "ice age" lasted millions of years -- how long? Nobody knows. But after some duration of time. Another set of cataclysms occurred -- Supervolcanoes, somekind of outgassing where the emanations created enough warmth (greenhouse gasses?) that the ice finally started melting, depositing the primordial oceans of ancient times.

All this was a function of the "Crustal Activity Continuum" -- Abiotic processes.

What's striking, is with the Abiotic Theory one can at least hypothesize about this primordial Earth -- whether this, in fact, is the explanation for the "snowball Earth" of a billion years ago -- who knows? How could one test this hypothesis? How can any scientist test any hypothesis explaining such an early Earth shrouded in primordial mystery?

These questions most likely will never be answered with certainty.

But at least with Abiotic Theory one can create a plausible senario of primordial Earth.

Clearly, Abiotic processes existed on Earth before any life at all.

Yet, today's geologists are surprised when a volcano erupts with expulsions that contain mercury, which most scientists consider a metal of deep Earth origin.

And show surprise and wonder that volcanoes can impact the Earth so dramtically as to alter climate.

Scientists were surprised at the discovery of Supervolcanoes, and their resulting impact of weather and even climate with a little ice age in the eruption's wake.

Formations of dolomite so much a mystery, it earned the sobriquet, "the Dolomite Problem" becuase dolomite can't form but in high heat and pressure, not at the surface, yet in so huge deposits, they are called mountains -- the Dolomites in the Italian Tyrol Mountains.

The Earth is littered with the evidences of Abiotic processes of a Cataclysmic nature going back through time.

Coal deposits 800 feet thick in Australia. Coal deposits all over the world lots in close association with petroleum deposits. Coals deposits in precambrian and archaen sedimentary deposits before evidence of land plants. Coal deposits that run in veins in rock formations. Coal in sheets 50 to 80 feet thick for miles.

Deposits of tar sands in Canada in such scope that no algae theory explains it satisfactorily. But a Cataclysmic Abiotic Theory explains it quite nicely.

How much remains unexplained because geologists refused to apply Abiotic Theory principles because it threatened one "branch" of their "school" of geology?

Man stuck in dogmatic attachment to dead theories is the block to man's progress in knowledge and ability.

How do those responsible for a millstone around man's neck deal with that reality?

They don't.

They stay safely in denial.

But how safe is the rest of mankind caught in one group's denial?

Quantum_Flux said...

Simply speechless! So much emotion and yet so much science at the same time, it's beautiful what you say there anaconda, it reminds me of Carl Sagan. The more I study geology, the more it makes me think that we are all live on a giant massive blue space-ship that orbits the sun once every year....I think you are exactly right in believing that the formation of the Earth had cold origins, as did (I'm assuming) the moon and mars.

Anaconda said...

A VOLCANIC OIL WELL

August 17, 1879
The New York Times
(Available by direct link at left-hand column under Introduction To The Science Of Abiotic Petroleum Origin)

"...[A] sound like that of steam escaping from a locomotive-value and then a rumbling noise were heard in the well, and a trembling of the earth was felt. Presently a shower of stones, ashes, and dry dust, accompanied by a dense cloud of gray smoke, was thrown high in the air. The eruption lasted only a few seconds and then oil began to flow copiously. The well has since been yielding nearly double its former quanity. The stones thrown up from the well were rough and light, like pumice stone. The stones were red and gray."

How else can a description like the one above be called, but exactly like it was, a volcanic oil well.

The pieces keep coming together.

Quantum_Flux said...

NASA on "Oil Production"

BrianR said...

"To the average sedimentary geologist the most basic scientific phenomena are absolute mysteries."

Ouch! Nice one.

Great stuff...you should make a list of ALL the basic scientific phenomena with the ones sed geologists don't understand crossed out...that would be so funny.

BrianR said...

Anaconda ... let me get this straight ... are you suggesting that oil (i.e., liquid) can be produced from active volcanoes? Is that what you mean by 'volanic oil well'? I'm simply looking for clarification.

Cam Snow said...

Anaconda - Although I really don't see how the posted article is at all related to Snowball Earth, which is itself a highly contentious subject, I want to address your comment.

How is an 800 foot thick coal deposit in Australia cataclysmic? Seems to me it would be anything but! To get that type of accumulation you would have to have an extremely long lived swamp system - that doesn't sound too cataclysmic to me.

Also, most people that study the early Earth, considered the Hadean, the period before the Archean, to be hot as hell - hence the term Hadean.

Could you please inform us all as to how abiotic theory explains Canadian Tar sands?

Quantum Flux - I'm pretty sure you missed the point of that article, which was that methane hydrates have great potential, but are difficult to use an extract.

Anaconda said...

To Dr. Snow:

Your statement: "Anaconda - Although I really don't see how the posted article is at all related to Snowball Earth, which is itself a highly contentious subject, I want to address your comment."

See, you don't look at the entire website -- you should, you might learn a thing or two.

If you did you would know that cataclysms are a major component of Abiotic Theory. Volcanic eruptions can be cataclysmic.

So, I was describing the "Snowball" Earth according to Abiotic Theory to juxapose that with the general lack of knowledge demonstrated by geology about cataclysmic events and how cataclysms go all the way back to the early history of Earth.

Also, as the piece directly stated: "But at least with Abiotic Theory one can create a plausible senario of primordial Earth."

It's called versatility and simplicity.

And I was being creative:

“Ideas are the life blood of the science of petroleum.” -- Hollis D. Hedberg, 1969

“Several times in the past we have thought we were running out of oil whereas actually we were only running out of ideas.” -- Parke A. Dickey, 1958

Dr. Snow, I guess you never learned that at geology "school."

Dr. Snow states: "How is an 800 foot thick coal deposit in Australia cataclysmic? Seems to me it would be anything but! To get that type of accumulation you would have to have an extremely long lived swamp system - that doesn't sound too cataclysmic to me."

Apparently you don't comprehend well.

As I said: "Coal deposits 800 feet thick in Australia. Coal deposits all over the world lots in close association with petroleum deposits. Coals deposits in precambrian and archaen sedimentary deposits before evidence of land plants. Coal deposits that run in veins in rock formations. Coal in sheets 50 to 80 feet thick for miles."

For you, I should have made it much more clear:

Coal is not made from plants, but from Abiotic processes and many times the "process" was cataclysmic in nature.

You are daft to think a swamp created an 800 foot high seam of coal.

But I forgot, that's what you "learned" in geology "school."

Dr. Snow states: "Could you please inform us all as to how abiotic theory explains Canadian Tar sands?"

Simple: an "outpouring" of hydrocarbons that flowed out onto the surface of the planet, and then degraded into tar sand by weathering and bacterialogical action.

An example of an Abiotic Cataclysmic event.

Say, turn about is fair play: From the "fossil" theory perspective: What "source rock" did all that tar sand come from?

Dr. Snow states: "Also, most people that study the early Earth, considered the Hadean, the period before the Archean, to be hot as hell - hence the term Hadean."

You are late to the party aren't you?

New evidence holds Earth had a cold formation. Yes, I expect not all scientists agree on that concept and there is a debate.

But enough scientists do believe in a "cold" forming Earth to make my senario plausible.

You really are a Rip Van Winkle.

No, you're just an oil geologist.

Geologist said...

It's possible that volcanic eruptions bring mercury to earth's surface, but surely most part of mercury come together hydrocarbons such as methyl-mercury. Mercury is also commom in coal, natural gas, oil, and sometimes in peat because comes from mantle due gas upwelling.