Watch a Little Oregon Geology on OPB-TV

OPB-TV logo with Oregon Field GuideOregon Field Guide is part of OPB-TV and is a long-time program for naturalists. Among its many award-winning programs and segments are some outstanding sessions on geology in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

For example, the Building the MAX-Line Tunnel episode takes you into the geology uncovered during the building of the Highway 26 Tunnel between Portland and Beaverton. On display in the tunnel station for the Children’s Discovery Museum and Oregon Zoo are core samples removed from that excavation, detailing the geological history of the area.

Most of these are featured on the Oregon Field Guide website for free viewing, and I highly recommend it if you are worn out watching Breaking Bad and Downtown Abbey reruns.

The Strongest Mineral on Earth Found Along the Sea

Geothite by Wiki Commons.

For those working in the lapidary arts, we’ve been dazzled by the strength of the minerals and gems we find. The Washington Post announces there is something in nature stronger than diamonds and steel, and unbreakable by bullets.

Currently, the strongest natural material known is the silk of a spider. With this new research, your next tidal pool adventure along the Pacific Northwest coastline might come with a new perspective, and a new respect.

In a study set to come out this month in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, British researchers announced that the teeth of shelled, aquatic creatures called limpets are the strongest biological material on Earth, overtaking the previous record-holder, spider silk.

The teeth, which are so small they must be examined with a microscope, are composed of very thin, tightly-packed fibers containing a hard mineral called goethite. Limpets use them to scrape food off of rocks, but lead author Asa Barber said humans can adapt the technology to build better planes, boats and dental fillings.

Testing found the mineral material in the snail-like creatures commonly found along tidal pool areas to be nearly flawless in their very thin filaments, reinforcing the structural components, and have a strength of 5 gigapascals, five times that of most spider silks.

The teeth also bested several man-made materials, including Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used to make bulletproof vests and puncture-proof tires. The amount of weight it can withstand, Barber told the BBC, can be compared to a strand of spaghetti used to hold up more than 3,300 pounds, the weight of an adult female hippopotamus.

For information on geothite, see:

Oldest Fossils Found in Australia

Stromatolites in Sharkbay Australia - Wiki Commons

Live Science reported that a 3.5-billion-year-old fossil microbial community has been found in Australia by scientists, revealing some of the most ancient fossil life forms ever discovered.

The new find reveals that a scant 1 billion years after Earth’s origin, complex microbial communities that clung to sediments along the windswept seashore had already begun harvesting energy from sunlight, rather than the rocks.

…A few stromatolites, or domelike like rock structures built by ancient microbial communities, have been found at the Strelley Pool formation in Australia that may date to about 3.45 billion years ago. Fossil sulfur-eating microbes from about 3.4 billion years ago have also been found there as well. Other fossils from South Africa reveal microbial communities that date to 2.9 billion years ago.

…More primitive rock-eating bacteria, called chemolithotrophs, likely evolved before the microbial mats, though no trace of Earth’s earliest pioneers has yet been found. Chemolithotrophs harvest energy by chemically modifying minerals such as iron or sulfur in the rock, and many such bacteria are still alive today.

But the newly discovered communities were anchored to the seashore close to sun and water, so they probably weren’t eating minerals found in rock. Instead, they must have harvested energy through photosynthesis, suggesting such bacteria evolved earlier than previously thought.

Carbon May Teach Us About the Origins of the Earth

A press release on EurekaAlert, “Deep Carbon: Quest underway to discover its quantity, movements, origins and forms in Earth,” states that the The Deep Carbon Observatory 10-year project to explore the carbon found deep under the earth’s surface.

The program is investigating deep carbon’s movement in the slow convection of the mantle, the percolating fluids of the crust, and the violent emission from volcanoes. It searches for the ancient origin of the deep carbon, and the formation and transformation of its many forms, ranging from gas and oil to diamonds and deep microbes.

Ninety percent or more of Earth’s carbon is thought to be locked away or in motion deep underground–a hidden dimension of the planet as poorly understood as it is profoundly important to life on the surface, according to scientists probing the world’s innermost secrets in the decade-long, $500 million project.

In a landmark volume, DCO scientists say estimates of carbon bound in the metallic core alone range from 0.25 to 1 percent by weight. If 1 percent proves correct, the core by itself sequesters four times more carbon than all known carbon reservoirs in the rest of the planet–and 50,000,000 times as much as that held in the flora and fauna on Earth’s relatively wafer-thin skin far above.

Studies of meteorites suggest that the material that first formed Earth contained about 3% by weight carbon. Confirmed sources of Earth’s carbon, however — life, carbonate rocks like limestone, and carbon dioxide in the oceans and atmosphere — sum to only about 0.1% carbon content.

Carbon is the only element on earth so central to life on the planet, and the research into understanding how carbon influenced life may tell us even more about life evolving on this planet and elsewhere in space.

For more information on the The Deep Carbon Observatory, see:

Updated Jan 2016

Mount Saint Helen’s Crystals Predict the Past

Scientific American reports that a team in England and Germany are using crystallized minerals formed in the volcano just before eruption to determine a timeline of volcanic activity, and possibly predication from a study in the May 25 issue of Science.

…the researchers report that crystals of the silicate mineral orthopyroxene from 1980 and from subsequent eruptions trace various injections of magma, as well as other chemical changes, within the bowels of the volcano.

The crystals contain concentric rings of differing chemical composition. Some orthopyroxene crystals, for instance, have a magnesium-rich core surrounded by an iron-rich rim; others have an iron-rich core and a magnesium-rich rim. Each type of crystal zonation can record the conditions of the magma reservoir from which it emerged.

“We chemically fingerprint each of those zones to determine how they formed,” says lead study author Kate Saunders, a volcanologist of the University of Bristol in England. The outer rim of an orthopyroxene crystal, she says, represents the most recent stage of crystal formation and typically grew just months before the crystal’s emergence in volcanic ejecta. That allowed the researchers to make precise estimates of when, and how, the crystals acquired their chemical forms. “Mount Saint Helens is really good—because the samples, we know exactly when they erupted,” Saunders says.

They hope that the study of these crystals will corroborate and offer insight into the historical timeline of erruptions, something researchers today can only guesstimate.

For more information, see “What’s the Point of Volcano Monitoring?” from Scientific American and “Linking Petrology and Seismology at an Active Volcano” from Science.