(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists can use a variety of clues to find out what’s under the Earth’s surface without having to dig – including using ultrafine lasers as thin as a human hair on minerals found in beach sand.
This method has been used in a new study that points to a 4 billion-year-old piece of the Earth’s crust the size of Ireland, which lies under Western Australia and has influenced the geological evolution of this region over millions of millennia.
It may provide clues to how our planet went from uninhabitable to habitable.
The researchers believe that the vast expanses of the crust may have had a profound effect on rock formation as old materials mixed with new materials, first appearing as one of the planet’s earliest proto-crustal formations and surviving many mining events.
“If we compare our results with existing data, it appears that many regions of the world experienced similar times of formation and preservation of the early crust,” says geology graduate student and lead author of the study Maximilian Dröllner from Curtin University in Australia.
“This indicates a significant change in the evolution of the Earth about 4 billion years ago, when the meteorite bombardment weakened, the crust stabilized, and life began on Earth.”
Lasers have been used to vaporize grains of the mineral zircon taken from sand sampled from the rivers and beaches of Western Australia.
This technique, known as split-flow laser ablation and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, allows scientists to date grains and compare them to others to see where they might have come from.
This allowed the research team to gain insight into the crystalline basement beneath the Earth’s surface in this particular region – to show where the grains originally weathered from, what forces were used to form them, and how the region’s geology has shaped over time.
In addition to the fact that remnants of the protocrustus still exist – and this is about 100,000 square kilometers (38,610 square miles) – the boundaries of the block will also help scientists determine what else is hidden under the Earth’s surface, and how they could have evolved to be in their current state. .
“The edge of an ancient piece of crust appears to define an important crustal boundary that controls the location of economically important minerals,” says study leader Milo Barham, a geologist at Curtin University.
“The recognition of these ancient crustal remnants is important for the future of streamlined sustainable resource exploration.”
As you might expect, after 4 billion years there isn’t much left of the original Earth’s crust to study, which makes finds like this even more interesting and useful for experts – they give us an important window into the distant past.
The shifts of the earth’s crust and the turbulence of the hot mantle beneath it are difficult to predict and make a retrospective map. So when evidence of internal movement and geology is found on the surface, scientists are eager to exploit it.
Going forward, the results of the research described here may also help scientists studying other planets – how these planets form, how their early crust is formed, and even how alien life can originate on them.
“Studying the early Earth is challenging given the vast amount of time that has passed, but it has huge implications for understanding the meaning of life on Earth and our efforts to find it on other planets,” says Barham.
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