The history of the Earth in a grain of sand

The history of the Earth in a grain of sand

Scientists have developed a new metric to determine what they call the "age distribution fingerprint" of the mineral zircon in the sand. That fingerprint can then be used to reveal more about the evolution of the Earth's surface over billions of years.

Zircon is something geologists pay attention to, because it can form as continents crash into each other. These crystals can in some cases be billions of years old, bringing with them an enormous amount of history. The durability of the zircon makes it resistant to geological erosion and, as it forms sediments, it stores information along with it.

As the crust moves forcing new rocks to aggregate, a rock age timestamp is preserved in its composition. Even once it crumbles into tiny grains, traces of this history can be collected.

“The beaches of the world faithfully record a detailed history of our planet's geological past, with billions of years of Earth's history imprinted on it. is (": visible")) {console.log ("Edinet ADV adding zone: tag crm_srl-th_scienze_d_mh2_1 slot id: th_scienze_d_mh2"); }

By understanding the age distribution of zircon in a sand sample, the new technique allows scientists to understand which mountain-generating events were taking place leading to the deposition of those sediments. The approach is also capable of shedding light on how Earth first developed a habitable biosphere, according to the researchers, peering further back in time than other methods of geological analysis.

Another advantage What this new research technique has over existing methods is that it can be used to understand tectonic movements even when the age of the sediment deposit itself is not known (a scenario researchers often find themselves in). The team put their new method to the test with three case studies that highlighted how age distribution fingerprinting works, studying sediments in South America, East Antarctica and Western Australia.

if ( jQuery ("# ​​crm_srl-th_scienze_d_mh3_1"). is (": visible")) {console.log ("Edinet ADV adding zone: tag crm_srl-th_scienze_d_mh3_1 slot id: th_scienze_d_mh3"); } "For example, the sediments on the western and eastern coasts of South America are completely different because there are many young grains on the west side that were created by the crust that dips beneath the continent, driving earthquakes and volcanoes in the Andes," he said. geochronologist Chris Kirkland of Curtin University.

"On the east coast, everything is relatively calm geologically and there is a mix of old and young grains collected from a variety of rocks throughout the Amazon basin." The new analysis matched what previous research had discovered about the sites. Even single grains of sand can reveal the tectonic forces that created them, based on the age distribution of the sediments around them, the researchers explained.

The new technique can be used to reanalyze study data older, the researchers suggest, as well as to extract more details from suitable sediments in future research. "This new approach allows for a greater understanding of the nature of ancient geology in order to reconstruct the arrangement and movement of tectonic plates on Earth over time," said Barham.

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