Category Archives: Geology

Tectonic Movements: How Earthquakes Happen

Earth-cutaway-schematicAccording to the science of plate tectonics, the earth’s lithosphere (top level areas of the Earth) contains plates that move gradually over the asthenosphere (area directly under the lithosphere).

Major geological formations, such as the creations of volcanoes and mountains occur at the interaction of these plates, called orogeny.

Creation of Mountains

Capital Reef National Park
Capital Reef National Park, Utah

Mountains big and small have been the result of plate teconics.

The formation of the Himalayas was created when the Indian subplate burrowed under the European continent and formed the Appalachian Mountains,

When the North American and African plates collided, a large separation of earth materialized and the Atlantic Ocean opened up.

The volcanic and seismic activity of the West Coast of the US occurs as a result of grinding of the North American and Pacific plates.

The above are just a few examples of the effects of plate tectonics. The geological history of Earth is littered with such phenomena that have made the Earth what it is today.

What Else Occurs When the Teconic Plates Collide?

Earthquakes are caused by these collisions, as one plate moves over the other, the Earth shakes.

Less pronounced movements are witnessed every year as the plates collide under us. The measurement of intensity is rated using a Richter Scale, which records the magnitude of the collisions, with 1 being unnoticeable, up to 10, which can cause massive death and destruction. Fortunately, an earthquake of 10 is very rare.

Tetonic activity map over the Earth's history
Tetonic Activity Map Over the last One Million Years

What Causes the Plates to Move?

The latest theory is called slab pull, where areas of the lithosphere is less dense than the asthenosphere, but becomes denser over the years and subsequently cools and thickens.

This causes these areas above to sink further down into the mantle, pulling slabs of the lithosphere apart, resulting in these regions spreading or rifting.

Other causes of plate movements are thought to occur as heat rises from the Earth’s crust, causing the plates to move in different directions.

Where are the Areas on the Earth of Most Danger?

The most dangerous regions where earthquakes are known to occur are in areas called faults, which are cracks in the lithosphere caused by the previous mentioned stresses of plate collissions.

It is thought that the regions where the plates move in opposite directions is what results in faults. These plates are not stationary, but slowly moving against each other in inches per day. It is when these movements occur at a greater intensity, that we feel the disturbance, otherwise known as earthquakes.

The known fault areas are shown below.

Map of earthquakes from 1900 to present
Map of earthquakes from 1900 to present. Wikipedia

The Latest Findings

But as it turns out, such interactions between continental plates is not the only reason for various geological processes. Research led by a joint team of the University of Toronto and University of Aberdeen researchers have achieved an enormous breakthrough!

According to the research that uses supercomputers to run a model of the Earth’s upper mantle and crust, the prehistoric geological events could have left deep ‘scars’ that may play a significant role in earthquakes, tsunamis, formation of mountains or ocean trenches and many other ongoing geological processes.

The models created by the researchers indicate that the previous plate boundaries could stay buried deep below the surface of the Earth. These structures, which are no less than many millions of years old, are located far from the current plate boundaries and may cause drastic changes in the surface properties and structure of the interior of the continents.

The researchers went a step further to propose a new map highlighting the ancient geology of the Earth. The ‘perennial plate tectonic map’ explains through illustrations how the prehistoric geological events could affect today’s geological processes. The map is based on the common tectonic map, which is taught in elementary school, but it has been modified to include the concealed, ancient plate boundaries that may be involved in plate tectonic activity in the past as well as the present.

Owing to this recent breakthrough, some major revisions are required to the fundamental idea of plate tectonics. The research paper titled, ‘Lasting mantle scars lead to perennial plate tectonics’ appeared in the Nature Communications issue of June 10, 2016.

Conclusion

So we see that plate movements below the Earth’s surface can cause these disturbances to occur, but how they occur is still a forum for debate. At least we know where it happens most and precautions have been and will be taken for earthquakes to minimize damage.

Some of the Most Environmentally Dangerous Places on Earth

Kilauea Volcano with smoke plume rising
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii © SS

You’ve heard the term: “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. Well, we going to explore places that appeal to some for a short visit but wouldn’t want to overrun their stay. 

The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of these places. A live volcano that spits out lava like a bottle pouring ketchup on a hamburger, but it doesn’t have a peak, instead it is rather flat; nevertheless, it is a live volcano.

Big Island Hawaii volcano areaJust walk along the charred ground leading up to the lava plume and you will see what I am talking about. A friend of ours traversed this chard ground, passing many warning signs of “danger to your health and possible death.” He walked for about a mile to the ocean to see the molten lava spewing down into the water from the rocks above. It was a sight to see and a place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to camp out there, not to mention live there.  

There are however, locations on this planet that are a little more charitable and surprisingly, some people do make the places their home. Maybe not as treacherous as the Kilauea Volcano, but tough and scary just the same, as they are sitting right in the middle of mother nature’s hidden fury. 

According to the World Health Organization, about 90,000 people are killed every year due to natural disasters. Globally, natural disasters affect almost 160 million people yearly. They have an immediate effect on the lives and property, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to human survival. 

The places which are most prone to natural disasters are considered to be the most dangerous places on earth. Let’s take a look at where they are. 

I-44 Tornado Corridor 

Large tornado moving towards a house in a rural area
“crazy tornado” by rustybrick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Ranked as one of the most dangerous places to live, the I-44 tornado corridor is located between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. This geographical location has been hit by hundreds of tornadoes since 1950. The only period when there were no tornados was between the years 1992 and 1998. The following year has been known to be one of the most deadly years in the history of Oklahoma and Tulsa. 

In 1999, the area was hit by a series of 70 tornadoes which swept thousands of homes and killed hundreds of people in multiple cities. This series of tornadoes affected the areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  

The areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa are densely populated and are a home for over a million people. The spring season is particularly damaging for this location as the cool and dry air from the mountains collide with the warm, hot and humid air of the coastal area. As a result, most tornadoes hit the region in the spring season making it very difficult for people to live. 

Guatemala

A rural area in central Guatemala showing houses and people“Guatemala” by Green Empowerment is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A relatively poor country south of Mexico in Central America, Guatemala is constantly affected by natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. According to a survey, natural disasters between 1975 and 2015 have caused damage that has cost a total of $9.1 billion. 

A hurricane hit the country in 2005 caused severe damage. It also triggered landslides and floods. Multiple villages disappeared. With changes in the global environment, Guatemala is likely to experience an increase in temperatures and heat waves, which can affect more lives.  

Indonesia

Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia

“Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia.”by USAID Digital Development is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Indonesia has managed to survive many natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. With a recorded history of natural disasters dating back to the 13th century, Indonesia has endured multiple disasters in the last three decades. 

The most famous being the deadly tsunami of 2004, which caused 227,898 deaths. Being started by an earthquake of magnitude 9.1, this tsunami affected many other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. 

Due to changes in the global climate, Indonesia has experienced one major natural disaster every year since the 2004 tsunami. 

Africa’s Killer Lakes 

Lake Kivu, Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun, located in Congo and Cameroon are known as the “Killer Lakes of Africa”. These lakes have large volumes of methane and carbon dioxide stored underneath their surface. Eruption of these gases from the lakes have resulted in creation of a gas cloud which has killed thousands of people in the region. According to research, the reason for this eruption is the volcanic activity taking place under the surface of these lakes. 

Lake Kivu, located between Congo and Rwanda is the home for over 2 million people. However, this is a very dangerous zone as Lake Kivu, holds 2.3 trillion cubic feet of methane gas. It also holds around 60 cubic miles of carbon dioxide gas. Both these gases have a greenhouse effect. However, release of these gases can immediate kill the entire population in the region. 

Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun which also holds large reserves of these dangerous gases are located in Cameroon. People living around these lakes have experienced the eruptions of these harmful gases. The cloud of gas which formed after the release of CO2 and methane gas has killed thousands. Not only does it kills human beings, but it is also deadly for all creatures including plants and animals. 

The population living there is under immense threat as any volcanic eruption under the lakes can kill the entire population living in the region. 

The Cold Pole 

The toughest place for human survival is near the poles. The cold and dry climate not only hinders the growth of vegetation and animals but is also detrimental for the human survival. The oldest city located in the heart of Siberia is known as the Cold Pole. The Cold Pole is known to be the coldest place which is inhibited by humans. The Russians have been living in this harsh climatic zone for more than three centuries. 

The river which flows in the region is frozen for nine months in a year and the city hardly sees sun during winters. During summers which range from September to March, the area gets sunlight for less than five hours per day. The temperatures during winters can go down to -60 degrees Fahrenheit, but this area of extreme climatic conditions is still home for 1,500 people.  

China 

The most populated country in the world has probably endured the most dangerous and deadly natural disasters in history. China is prone to many natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and typhoons. 

China is located in a region where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are always colliding. This makes China one of the most dangerous countries in the world when it comes to natural disasters. Out of the 10 most deadly earthquakes on the planet, the top three were experienced by China. Not only earthquakes, but China’s coastal region is regularly hit by typhoons and storms. 

Between 2000 and 2015, natural disasters in China have affected 1.6 billion people and resulted in damages worth $300 billion. 

Creeping Sandbox, China 

If China doesn’t have enough to worry about, the once fertile oasis located in the Minqin Country in China is now an arid land. The people residing there are under an extremely tough situation as they are trapped between two deserts which are growing at a rapid rate. Human activities like deforestation has increased the rate of desertification and each year, the desert is growing by 10 meters. As a result, the land is becoming arid and barren and farmers living there are unable to meet their agricultural needs. 

Around two million people reside in this difficult climatic zone where there are 130 days of wind and sand storms each year. Due to extreme weather conditions and increased deforestation, the area of cultivable land has decreased from 360 sq. miles to 60 sq. miles. A number of farmers are relocating because of difficult living conditions. The government has also officially announced the relocation of displaced farmers in January this year.

Sahel Region of Africa 

Slightly change the definition of natural disasters, and you will notice that drought can also be disastrous to a region – a natural disaster in its own right. The dry and arid region of the Sahel region situated right next to the Sahara desert is prone to droughts. 

According to the UN Environmental Program, the drought in the Sahel region killed more than 100,000 people between 1972 and 1984. Over 750,000 people were dependent on food aid as they were unable to grow their crops due to extreme weather conditions and shortage of water. Studies have shown that the exploitation of resources by humans has further increased the risk of drought in the future, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places. 

Lake Nyos, Cameroon 

As soon as you hear about a death toll of 1,700 people, the kind of natural disasters which may come to mind are earthquakes, volcanic eruption or a flood. No one can imagine that this high death toll can be the result of the release of carbon dioxide.

Lake Nyos is located in Cameroon with no signs of volcanic activity. However, this silent blue lake killed 1,700 people and thousands of animals due to an abrupt turnover of water. Studies have shown that the volcanic activity taking place underneath the surface release carbon dioxide gas (CO2). This CO2 dissolved in the depths of the lake and the water became saturated with CO2. 

The water which is rich in CO2 does not mix or circulate, causing layers to form. These layers do not mix with each other. However, there is a periodic turnover of water which releases the trapped CO2 into the environment. 

This turnover which occurred in 1986 resulted in a sudden and disastrous release of CO2 in the atmosphere and killed many people. This periodic turnover continues to be a threat for people living near Lake Nyos in Cameroon.

Conclusion

There are many other places on earth which experience natural disasters of varying intensity, making them very dangerous places to live. With changes to the climate, the intensity and frequency of natural disasters have drastically changed. However, natural disasters are nothing but Mother Nature’s way of restoring balance to the earth. 

The Role of Minerals in Promoting Low-Carbon Technologies

Modern life on planet Earth thrives on the use of energy. The industrial advancements made in the past century have bestowed many favors upon us. However, these perks have come at great expense that is inhibiting the purity of our ecosystem; specifically, the use of two main energy sources – fossil fuels and coal results in the formation of carbon-laden byproducts, which are detrimental to our environment. In addition, coal combustion is one of the major sources of anthropogenic arsenic emission into the biosphere, of which India, China, and the United States are currently major contributors.

Due to the unrestrained production and emission of these byproducts in the past few decades, the Earth’s climate is getting warmer and unpredictable. Several environmental studies have issued warnings that the ongoing climate deterioration has put the existence of many geographical regions in jeopardy.

Many countries have understood the perils of conventional energy resources and are now willing to cut down their use. For instance, France has pledged to go gasoline-free on roads by the end of 2040. Similarly, many other countries have also set targets to reduce their reliance on carbon-intensive technologies.

Low-Carbon Technologies

Solar energy, wind energy, and batteries are at the core of the low-carbon paradigm. Sun and wind are considered the two most abundant sources of renewable energy. In addition, only they have the potential to take the place of conventional energy options. Batteries, on the other hand, play a vital part towards cleaner energy for our environment, but a car using electricity as a fuel has to have a robust and long-lasting battery as the fuel reservoir and transmission. Similarly, solar panels and wind turbines can’t become part of the main power grid without suitable battery installments.    

Interestingly, all the aforementioned components of the low-carbon future extensively depend on different minerals. Let’s have a look at how minerals play a major role in low-carbon energy solutions.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Wind Turbines

Offshore Wind Turbines

Wind power is at the center of the eco-friendly energy landscape. It has the ability to replace conventional energy sources in coastal areas and other regions with good average gust speed. It has been estimated that, in the next 5-6 years, a 1000-feet tall wind turbine will be able to produce enough energy to provide electricity to a small town.

The wind turbines designed on the latest technology require extensive use of minerals for its production. For instance, the power setup of a three-megawatt wind turbine needs.

  •        335 tons of steel
  •        4.7 tons of copper
  •        3 tons of aluminum
  •        2 tons of rare earth minerals

1,200 tons of concrete is also required to put up a 3-MW wind turbine. (Note: concrete also consists of different minerals).

The above figures clearly indicate that we will need different minerals and metals in great quantity for making wind turbines. Without the easy availability of raw materials, the prospect of setting up a wind turbine will remain an expensive affair. This downside will discourage both public and private entities to fulfill their power needs through wind energy.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Solar Cells

According to a study from 2017, solar energy makes up more than half (54.5%) of the global renewable capacity. It has also been estimated that the share of solar energy will be increased by 3% in the next three years. Photovoltaic cells, which convert light energy into electricity, are at the core of solar energy generation.

Metals and minerals are important raw materials needed in the making of PV cells. A standard PV cell is 70% glass. This means a large amount of silicon will be required for extensive solar cell networks. Aluminum, tin, copper, and lead are also part of solar cell construction. It is interesting to note that a fractional amount of silver is required in PV cells. However, its consumption in solar cell production still accounts for 7% of the overall silver demand.

For wide-scale and economical manufacturing of PV cells, governments and private companies have to expedite the mining of different minerals especially silver, aluminum, and tin.

Use of Minerals and Metals in Batteries

Batteries are the backbone of renewable energy transmission. Whether it’s solar or wind, any alternative energy model can’t sustain without efficient batteries in place. Lithium-ion cells are considered ideal batteries in setting up an efficient renewable energy system. Besides lithium, nickel, and cobalt are also needed to make these batteries.    

The Growing Demand for Minerals

By keeping in mind the ongoing and future renewable energy projects, researchers have projected the increase in demand of several minerals by 2050. Since every renewable energy project needs lithium-ion batteries, the demand for lithium will most likely see an exponential rise. Researchers have concluded that the lithium demand will be shot up by 965% in comparison to its current production.

Regarding copper, some experts predict that we are going to need the same amount in the next 25 years that we have used in the last 5,000 years. Nickel, Vanadium, Indium, cobalt, and graphite are also some of the minerals that will experience a significant rise in their demand for a low-carbon environment.

The Paradox of Mining and Low-Carbon Energy Generation

It is really evident that extensive mining is required for fulfilling the mineral and metal demand of the renewable energy sector. As things stand, mining makes up 11% of global energy consumption. While striving for clean energy, it is equally important to make current mining methods more efficient so that they can’t negate the efforts made for reducing greenhouse emissions.   

An Opportunity for Developing Countries

Many large deposits of minerals and metals required to devise clean-energy are present in developing countries. These countries now have an opportunity to boost their economies while playing a critical role in cutting down the global dependence on carbon-laden fuel and energy sources. However, it is extremely important that they employ smart mining methods to excavate the required minerals. Without better mining practices, the entire exercise of ‘minerals for clean energy’ can end up without bearing any substantial results.

Discovery of Rarest Mineral Reidite in the Largest Australian Crater

Craters are circular depressions caused by the high impact of planetary bodies (meteorites, comets etc.) that crash on Earth. The arbitrary patterns that we see on the moon are actually craters. Our planet also has this geological feature but not in the abundance that we see on extraterrestrial bodies.

Besides having an extraterrestrial connection, a very few craters are known for their rich mineral content. There are around 128 small and large craters on the earth’s surface but only six of them have a noteworthy mineral presence.   

In this article, we are going to discuss one of the largest craters of our plant and how its creation led to the formation of an entirely new class of extremely rare minerals.

Woodleigh Crater: Australia’s Largest Impact Crater

Woodleigh Crater, Australia

Woodleigh Crater Region of Australia

Woodleigh Crater is located in Western Australia, created by a meteorite impact that occurred millions of years ago. It was relatively a newly found crater discovered just 19 years ago. Geologists initially estimated that Woodleigh had a diameter around 74 miles.

Later on, another research team claimed that its diameter was not more than 37 miles. The exact diameter of Woodleigh is still under research.

Even if we take the later finding into consideration, Woodleigh will still be one of the largest craters on the planet. It is indisputably the largest crater of Australia. The age of the crater is believed to be 300 million years old. In other words, 300 million years ago a meteorite collided with the terrestrial surface that now comes within Western Australia.  It was the period when the dry land is predominantly covered with plants and the evolution of sharks who just started evolving in the oceans.

Reidite Discovery in Woodleigh Crater

There are some preset geological activities associated with the discovery of any crater. At the outset, researchers try to determine the age of the discovered depression. Secondly, they try to estimate the size of the celestial body that caused it by determining the radius of the depression. In some cases, they also try to make the mineral profile of the discovered region. It depends on how much relevant authorities are interested in the given project.

Before the accidental discovery of reidite, Woodleigh Crater was also one of those sites where geologists were only trying to determine the age of the meteorite. Reidite is an extremely rare mineral only found on six sites around the world. This exceptionally rare specimen is actually a re-crystallized form of zircon, which is a widely available silicate mineral. Reidite is formed when zircon undergoes an extreme pressure change.

As we know, diamonds are formed when carbon deposits experience certain high-pressure conditions underneath. Reidite is also formed through the same process when zircon undergoes extremely high-pressure changes. However, the pressure required for the formation of reidite is exponentially higher than that of what is required for diamond formation.

Earth’s atmospheric pressure is 1 atm and reidite formation takes place at a whopping 300,000 atm. Scientists believe that geological processes going in the Earth’s crust can’t generate such tremendous pressure. This leads to the conclusion that reidite can only be formed under the great pressure and shock waves generated when a hypervelocity meteorite collides with the earth surface. The rarity of reidite and its discovery from Woodleigh Crater have also substantiated this assertion.

The rearrangement of the zircon molecules to form reidite is akin to stuffing a space dedicated for 20 people with an additional 20 more. Geologists haven’t recorded such tremendous re-crystallization with any other terrestrial mineral specimen since then.

Discovered by Chance

Reidite is a mineral so rare that there is not even enough amount of it that can be used in multiple studies. It is not a mineral for which geologists would particularly devise a prospecting plan. So, the discovery of reidite from Woodleigh was also an accidental event. Undergrad students who were studying the crater for its geological features and the connection with the meteorite actually stumbled upon a specimen that had some reidite traces.

What Does the Reidite Discovery Mean?

From a gemological standpoint, there is nothing much to say about the recent reidite discovery. The mineral is extremely rare and can’t even be prospected for the sake of collection. However, the discovery has more implications regarding the geological history of our planet and how extraterrestrial phenomena have impacted it over time.  

Possible Uses of Reidite

There are really slim chances that reidite can ever be found to have any commercial significance. Nevertheless, reidite specimens can be used for the same purposes as zircon. Reidite is 10% denser than zircon and also has better hardness measurement. This means reidite specimens would be suitable for the manufacturing of abrasives and refractories.

Crater Mining Is Not an Issue

Geologists don’t worry about crater mining while deciding the commercial viability of a mineral. Craters in Canada and South Africa have abundant deposits of nickel and gold and miners excavate these minerals from there like any other mining site. However, the lack of commercial incentive and the extremely rare nature of the mineral are major reasons for companies not wanting to spend their resources on the prospecting of reidite.

Synthetic Reidite

Scientists have also tried to synthesize reidite in labs, but they couldn’t get a completely identical specimen. Again, with no commercial value in sight, companies are not pretty much interested in creating reidite in Labs.

Zircon: the Parent Mineral of Reidite

Zircon is a silicate mineral abundantly present in the earth’s crust and has many uses. It’s fine and colored specimens are used as gemstones. Blue zircons are the most common gem-grade stones in the category. It is also found in a colorless crystallized form which is polished and faceted to produce low-priced diamond alternatives.

In addition, its opaque specimens have many commercial uses as well. For instance, the white zircon deposits are processed to make pigments and whitening agents. It is really fascinating how a meteorite impact has transformed a widely available zircon into one of the rarest geological specimens.

Japan Discovers a Rare-Earth Mineral Deposit Worth of Hundreds of Years of Supply

Tantalite Mineral

Rare-earth minerals, as the name suggests, are one of the most valuable natural commodities offered by the earth’s crust.  Apart from being rare, these minerals have immense economic importance. For example, they are used in the manufacturing of the majority of electronic equipment that we use today.

Rare-earth minerals may contain any of the 13 metallic elements that are located on the second to last row of the periodic table. According to experts, they are abundantly present in the earth’s crust but in a dispersed form. This means it’s really hard to find deposits where these rare metallic elements are clumped together in an amount that can be mined for industrial purposes.

According to a research report published in the Journal of Nature, Japan might have discovered the world’s largest single deposit of rare-earth minerals on the coast of Minamitori Island over 1,100 miles southeast of Tokyo. It’s important to mention here that the discovery is still in its prospecting phase. However, what has been found until now is quite astonishing. It is safe to say that this discovery will have substantial implications for the high-end and complex manufacturing industries. First, let’s have a look at what geological and mineralogical experts have hinted about the deposit.

After the scientific prospecting of the site, researchers indicated that the deposit contains over 16 million tons of these rare-earth gems. Yes, you read that right. In the researchers’ own words, the amount of different rare-earth minerals present at the site can fulfill the global needs for a semi-infinite time period.

For example, it has been found out that there is enough yttrium and dysprosium on the site to fulfill the global needs of these metals for more than 700 years. Moreover, these europium deposits can last for more than 600 years. Terbium can be supplied for around 400 years from Minamitori Island mines.

Formation of Rare-Earth Minerals  

Rare-earth minerals exist in the deepest layers of the earth’s crust. They move closer to the surface through tectonic and volcanic activity. It is believed that rare-earth minerals are the debris of a supernova explosion occurring millions of years ago, which then got integrated into the earth’s core upon its formation. Scientists believe that it is only natural to find such a large deposit of rare-earth minerals in Japan since the region experiences more volcanic activities and tectonic shifting than anywhere else in the world.

Economic Implications of the Discovery  

China has a monopoly over the exports of rare-earth minerals and Japan is one of the largest consumers of this community, due to its expansive electronic manufacturing landscape. It has to rely on Chinese rare-earth imports to fulfill its industrial needs, but they have been guilty of abusing their authority over exports to Japan several times in the past.

For instance, it abruptly slashed the rare-mineral export quota to Japan and increased the price by 10 percent. In 2014, China withheld rare-earth mineral shipments to Japan over the issue of a disputed island between the two countries. The 2014 fiasco actually pushed Japan to start searching and prospecting rare-earth minerals on its own territory.

With the newly found deposits, Japan won’t have to bear with these shenanigans anymore. As mentioned earlier, the deposits are so enormous that they can fulfill the demand for several rare-earth minerals for centuries.  

The discovery of the minerals in Japan has great economic prospects for the US as well. The United States is already in a trade war with China, where both countries are trying to damage the exports of the other. Successful mining of rare-earth minerals from Minamitori Island means the US can also drop one more Chinese import from the list in the future.  

Challenge: Finding an Economic Excavation Method

The research further indicates that the difficult and expensive excavation is the major reason why Japan hasn’t already started mining in this area. According to the report writers, Japanese mineral experts are trying to work out an excavation technique that can turn the deposit mining into an economically viable project.

Uses of Rare-Earth Minerals Found in Japanese Site

To understand the significance of this discovery, let’s have a look at many the different uses that rare-earth minerals discovered on Minamitori Island can provide.

Yttrium

Yttrium is used as reinforcement in the making of magnesium and aluminum alloys. It is also used in the manufacturing of white LED lights. Yttrium is also in solid-state lasers, which are used to cut through metals. The radioactive isotopes of yttrium are used in some cancer treatments.  

Dysprosium

The most significant use of dysprosium is seen in the manufacturing of control rods of nuclear reactors. It is used because of its remarkably good capability of absorbing neutrons. Moreover, its magnets are also used in motors and generators because of their exceptionally good resistance against temperature-derived demagnetization. Dysprosium is also used in the manufacturing of halide lamps since it produces intense white light.

Europium

Europium glows red under UV light. It is used in the printing of Euros to deter forgeries. A fake Euro banknote doesn’t give a reddish glow under UV lamps because of the absence of Europium from it.  Europium is also used in really small amounts in the manufacturing of low-energy light bulbs. Moreover, some super-conducting alloys also contain the traces of europium.

Terbium

Terbium is used in the manufacturing of low-energy light bulbs. It is used in medical X-rays for quality improvement of images within short exposure time. Terbium basically makes the use of X-ray equipment safer. Its amorphous form is also used in the manufacturing of laser devices.

As the research into the excavation of these minerals without exhausting resource is still underway, it will easily take a couple of years before the industrial sector can benefit from this deposit. The Japanese track record regarding such developments is commendable. So, we should have a positive outlook regarding the optimal utilization of these rare-earth mineral deposits in the near future.  

The Baffling Strange Waves That Rippled Across the World


Something very odd happened a little before 9:30 on November 11, 2018. A seismic wave was picked up by instruments around the world. The ground zero point originated near the shores of the French island of Mayotte, off the coast of Southeast Africa.

This bizarre wave began rolling off of Mayotte and continued to travel for nearly 11,000 miles. It flew over vast oceans, hovered past Chile, New Zealand, and Canada and even made its way  to Hawaii.

Seismic waves are often detected by the instruments and these vibrations are not really strange.  They are often unexpected, but completely normal.

What really made this seismic wave bizarre is the fact that no one saw or felt it and only one person was able to observe the signal on the US Geological Survey’s real-time seismogram displays. And as the world was busy doing other things, this one earthquake buff was paying attention to the real-time readings and happened to take pictures of the zigzags. When the picture of the waves was posted on Twitter with the caption, “This is a most odd and unusual seismic signal. Recorded at Kilima Mbogo, Kenya …” it gained national and international attention. Subsequently, seismologists from all over the world began to analyze this strange phenomenon.

To make sense of what happened on this day, we first need to understand how seismograms function.

How Does a Seismogram Work?

Seismogram at Weston ObservatorySeismograms were drawn on a piece of paper through drum recorders 30 years ago. The roll of paper was wrapped around these drums and just when the drum revolved, the pen changed its position and left traces across the paper.

Seismograms were drawn on a piece of paper through drum recorders 30 years ago. The roll of paper was wrapped around these drums and just when the drum revolved, the pen changed its position and left traces across the paper.

Today, the display is digital and records about 100 samples per seconds.

As soon as an earthquake occurs, a seismograph will display its motions as well as its time. They typically last from seconds to minutes. The height of the seismogram shows the actual ground motion. As a result, the kind of waves that would develop will also show on the seismogram. It could be a P or S. P indicates fastest travelling waves, whereas S indicates shear waves.

That said, earthquake vibrations aren’t the only thing that are caught on the seismogram. If a seismogram is placed too close to the road, it will detect the vibrations caused by all the upcoming cars.  

The only way seismologists are able to tell which waves are an indication of an earthquake is through the fluctuating patterns. Ones that show an earthquake are usually spiky and sudden.  

Theories

  • Earthquake

Anthony Lomax, an independent seismologist, shared his theory, “the event is almost certainly volcanic-related, since Mayotte and the region around are volcanic. The seismic waves may be from earthquake-like, faulting rock movement responding to inflation/deflation or collapse of a volcanic edifice, or directly related to movement or vibration of magma.” 

Again, comes the question, why was it so weird then?  

The signals were noted to be very strange with their long and monochromatic lines, according to Lomax Goran Ekstorm, a seismologist at Columbia University, while explaining the situation to National Geographic said that it was pretty straightforward.  

“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it [but] it doesn’t mean that, in the end, the cause of them is that exotic,” Ekstorm said.

According to him, these waves began as a result of an earthquake, yet it passed by stealthily without anyone noticing it because it was a very slow earthquake.  

This theory is also supported by the fact that the French island Mayotte is actually part of an archipelago called Comoro, and the islands belonging to this group are identified as volcanic.

Additionally, Mayotte itself is home to two volcanoes that have stayed dormant for more than 4000 years.

National Geographic did some more digging and stated that this island has already experienced hundreds of tremors since May last year.  

The tremor has certainly caught the attention of the experts and the authorities.  The French Geological Survey has become highly active in the area to monitor the zone for any new volcanic activity.

Based on their examination, The French Geological Survey put forward the theory that these waves might be an indication of a mass movement of magma underneath the earth’s crust, referred to as chamber collapse.

The collapse is mostly triggered when the magma chamber beneath the volcano empties because of a large volcanic eruption. This eruption could be a singular event, or it could be a series of eruptions.  

  • Nuclear Tests

There were many online theorists who did not share Ekstorm and Lomax’s views. Their theory is based on the probability that traditional earthquakes send a jolt of high frequency waves, and that is how it is seen on the seismogram. On the other hand, this reading from November 11 picked up low yet consistent waves that lasted for more than 20 minutes.

If the effects of these were really felt, it almost would have felt like as if the earth rang like a bell.

Not yet ready to cast this off as earthquake related waves, online theorists suggested that these waves might be a result of covert nuclear tests.

  • Other Theories

Since the pictures went public, netizens began to come up with their own theories.

Some suggested sea monsters, humongous ones. Others also suggested a meteorite that could have caused this rumbling tremor seen on the seismogram.

Helen Robinson, a PhD candidate in applied volcanology at the University of Glasgow, also agrees with the first theory, believing that it could be a result of the complex geology of Mayotte that caused these strange waves.

However, talking to National Geographic, she also said. “It is very difficult, really, to say what the cause is and whether anyone’s theories are correct—whether even what I’m saying has any relevance to the outcome of what’s going on.”

Researchers Stunned by the Deepest Manhole Ever Created

”Cross section diagram of the earth's crust
Photo by antkevyv – yayimages.com

s a human species, we like to say we that we are able to explain just about everything that happens or has happened on our planet, whether it be from pride or just plain arrogance, but whatever the reason, something new come to bust our bubble.

Besides trying to find out everything about what’s on the surface of our planet, we’ve also tried to find out more about what’s below the surface. Russia and the United States both took on projects which saw them digging deep into the surface in order to unearth what lies below. What was found was more than what we expected. Here’s a little bit on what we’ve been able to find under the surface.

Inner Core

A few decades ago, we started becoming more and more adventurous in our endeavors to find out what lies under our feet. 1936 saw Inge Lehmann – a renowned seismologist of the time – discovered a distinctive inner core of the planet, which was different from the outer core. This distinction between the  solid inner core and the molten outer core was discovered by her when she was studying the seismograms during earthquakes, which took place in New Zealand. Her findings were the first major step in discovering what goes on deep within our planet.

Outer Core

Compressional waves were passed through the Earth to further understand the molten outer core. The manner in which the waves were deflected showed that there was clearly a molten outer core in the planet. Discovering the solid inner core was not as easy as it was to find out about the outer core. It wasn’t until 2005 that the compressional waves properly passed through the outer core to the inner core that we found out there is a solid inner core beyond the molten outer core.

Competing Superpowers

For the longest time, there were two superpowers in the world – The United States and the Soviet Union. Both of them were vying for dominance in every respect there was and this competition with each other became an immense motivation factor to learn more about the happenings below the surface.

Diagram of Earth's Inner Layers
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth%27s_Inner_Layers_denoting_the_LAB.png

Researchers from all over the world wanted to be the first to discover and share findings of our planet. Both sides were watching each other make more attempts to learn about the Earth’s composition and tried out-doing one another.

The Race For Space

While both of the superpowers were competing to find out what was below the surface, the main point of conflict was being able to go beyond the planet’s atmosphere and into space. This “Space Race” was not just specific to reaching beyond the atmosphere of the planet. It was a race to discover more than the other in multiple avenues.

The Soviets were the first to launch a satellite into space but the US took the cake by landing the first man on the moon in ’69. Fast forward a few years and the US and USSR worked together to orbit the Earth in ’75 with a combined crew of American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts. The dissolution of the USSR saw greater cooperation levels between Russia and the US.

Super Drills

While both parties still wanted to become the first to know more about the planet’s composition, neither was in a hurry to just drill a hole and send scientists into it. There was a lot of caution being taken as the scientific communities of both countries were funded to find out more.

With a lot of work still left, the prospect of giant drills was finally being considered as a realistic option to find out more about the inner core of the planet. There was already a consensus that the planet would be much warmer on the inside so they designed these super drills that were capable of digging through without burning up or melting. This took an extensive amount of time to put together.

The Mohole

Refraction of P-waveThe assignment that the US took on for discovering more information was known as “Project Mohole”.  In 1909, a scientist named Mohorovicic discovered the boundary which separates the crust from the mantle (the layer just below the crust and before the inner core) and this boundary was called the Mohorovicic Discontinuity or Moho for short.

Both the US and the Russians wanted to reach the Mohole through their digging expeditions, which was 10 kilometers below the ocean floor and around 90 kilometers below the continental crust. It was clear to both of them that reaching the Moho would be the ideal manner to assert dominance over the other.

More Than What Was Expected

With plenty of digging and drilling being done to reach the Mohole, both parties managed to discover a lot more on their way, from the fossils deep below the surface of the earth to the organisms living in the previously unknown depths of the ocean.

At 49,000 feet, the Russians discovered the Mohorovicic discontinuity. At this point, things started to get a little too hot in a literal manner. The expected temperatures were far below what they actually turned out to be. The unprecedented temperatures of above 350 degrees Fahrenheit were seen and this borehole eventually became known as the Hole to Hell.

The Hole to Hell

The Kola Borehole stumped the scientific community at large because of how big an obstacle it became but it was not an endeavor without success. It led to massive geological studies and even more amazing discoveries such as the findings of 24 living organisms so deep below the surface.

The ‘Hell hole’ was labeled that because there were rumors of screams coming from the borehole and the people working on the project felt that they’d reach the depths of hell before they finished the project.

Amazing Event

While the prospect of actually discovering a Hole to Hell was dismissed, there have been more projects that focus on interesting findings based on these previous endeavors. The Borehole at Kola and the Mohole Project were put aside but led the way to the sharing of information by both scientific communities.

The more we know, the more we realize how clueless we are about our planet and as long as we keep asking the right questions, our curiosity will help us to learn more about the planet that we live on.  

Meteorites: The Celestial Objects Existing on Earth

The human fascination for what lies beyond earth has always been intriguing, even in the primitive times. By the virtue of this unrelenting fascination and general curiosity, we have succeeded in traversing the space that exists further than our planet.

Our excursions to space only started during the later years of the 20th century. On the other hand, Earth has been welcoming foreign bodies from in the form of meteorites thousands of years before our missions to space in the 20th century.

Meteorites are the infinitesimal debris originating from a variety of celestial bodies within our solar system. They are mostly the fragments of comets, meteoroids, and asteroids, which withstand the atmospheric entry to our planet and fall on Earth. In this article, we will discuss some basic aspects of these minor spatial bodies that end up on our planet and deemed valuable specimens by many stone collectors, hobbyists, and professionals, such as geologists, astro scientists and natural history museums curators.

Meteor, Meteoroid or Meteorite?

There is a general confusion regarding the terms meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites. Many people wrongly interchange these terms. So, before we move to discuss meteorites in detail, it will be fitting to lay this confusion to rest once and for all.

  • Meteor: The term is actually used to describe the streak of light blazing through the atmosphere due to burning celestial debris.
  • Meteoroid: It is that interplanetary object that burns up in outer space to produce a ‘meteor’.
  • Meteorites: They are those few meteoroids and their remnants that don’t get vaporized upon entering the atmosphere of earth.

Micrometeorites

Whenever we talk or think about spatial and interplanetary things, it is usually underlined with the assumptions of colossal masses and gargantuan planetary balls. But it is interesting to note that most of the interplanetary stuff that ends up on earth is really small in size, even by the non-astronomical size and dimension standards.

For instance, most of the celestial mass that ends up on earth has a size smaller than 100 micrometers per specimen and hence called micrometeorites. All these micrometeorites don’t survive the atmospheric entry and transform into dust. But this dust from far off planets and stars collectively add somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 tons to the mass of earth every year.

Classification of meteorites

Classification of meteorites is usually carried out on two criteria i.e. how they are found on the ground and which elements they are made of. Let’s have a look at them one by one.

Finds and Falls

Meteorites that are discovered way too long after their fall on earth are called Finds. On the other hand, meteorites falling that is witnessed by observers and later collected through planned quests by collectors are called Falls. The latter type of meteorites is more sought-after among the collectors. However, some exceptional Finds specimens also get good money to its discoverers.

Iron meteorites

These meteorites have the prefix of iron because they are primarily (90-95%) made of the metal. According to astronomical studies, iron meteorites are believed to be part of the inner mantle of planets that perished hundreds and thousands of years ago. It is also said that iron meteorites found on earth are mostly the fractions of asteroids present in the belt of interplanetary objects between Jupiter and Mars.http://streaming.yayimages.com/images/photographer/brandonhot/343eec9eb3ce52ab66bbadf4b2c2b649/iron-meteorite.jpg

Unlike normal geological stones, iron meteorites are way heavier. This exceeding weight is due to the densely packed iron molecules. If you have ever lifted a cannonball with your bare hands then you can get an idea of how heavy an iron meteorite is. Besides iron, traces of nickel and other metals are also present in this type of meteorite.

Kamacite: An Alloy Found in Iron Meteorites

Some iron meteorites also contain a naturally developed alloy of iron and nickel called Kamacite. The formation of this alloy introduces crystallization changes in the meteorite that can be seen through aesthetical patterns and color combinations when the specimens are cut, polished and treated by a mild nitric acid solution.

Stone Meteorites

These are the most abundant meteorites found on the earth surface. Stone meteorites are made of the external crust of interplanetary bodies and hence look pretty similar to any earthly rock specimen. People with no meteorite hunting expertise can’t tell them apart.

However, stone meteorites that have recently fallen on earth get a peculiar black crust because of their smoldering upon entering the earth’s orbit. Stones meteorites have lesser demand in the collector’s industry in comparison to iron meteorites. However, there are some special specimen stone meteorites that are sought-after because of their visual appeal and history.

Chondrule-laden Stone Meteorites

There are some stone meteorites that contain unusual, grainy and vibrant inclusions called ‘chondrules’. This ‘impurity’ makes meteorite specimens more attractive. Apart from that, collectors are also intrigued by these specimens because of the history of chondrules.

It is believed that chondrules were once part of the solar nebula. This means these tiny grains are the most ancient item present on the earth surface even predating the formation of our planet and the life that has ever existed here.

Miscellaneous Types of Meteorites

Besides these two mostly occurring meteorites, some other rare specimens are found.

Stone-Iron Meteorites

They make up two percent of all the meteorites found on earth surface. Because of this extraordinary arrangement of two different materials, these meteorites are popular among collectors, which also make them relatively expensive. They are often framed or showcased after receiving some treatment (polishing and acid treatment).

Lunar and Martian Meteorites

Some really rare meteorites have also been discovered that originated with the impact of other celestial bodies on the surface of the Moon and Mars. Lunar and Martian meteorites are extremely rare and therefore can be sold with a hefty price tag. They are often priced as per their weight like any precious gemstone or rare earth metal.

You can learn more about observing and finding meteorites on the Astronomical League website.

How to Distinguish Real Emeralds and Ambers from the Fake Ones

Gemstones are beautiful and precious and have been used in the fields of astrology, medicine and fashion for thousands of years. With time and technological innovations, fake or synthetic gemstones have also made their way into the gem market. If you are spending significant money on buying gems, make sure that you are getting the ones that are real, as the chances of getting conned are very real as well.

In this article, we discuss some of the techniques and methods that you can use at home to distinguish between real and fake emeralds and ambers. As the commercial says “The more you know…”.

How to identify a fake emerald

These green beauties are one of the most prized and beautiful gemstones out there. They can be used as ornaments in any style of jewelry, be it a bracelet, necklace or earrings. Emeralds are relatively harder than other gemstones, but real emeralds are not as hard as synthetic ones. Natural emeralds contain internal imperfections, which make them easier to break, compared to synthetic ones that are manmade and free of imperfections.

What are fake emeralds?

Fake emeralds are usually categorized into two categories

‘Natural’ fake emeralds: Since emeralds belong to the beryl family that is green, natural gemstones of the same color shade are often also sold off as emeralds. Peridot, olivine and green garnet are usually sold in the name of emeralds.

Synthetic emeralds: Synthetic emeralds that are created in the lab possess the same internal crystal lattice as natural emeralds, so in theory, they are not fakes. If you are going to buy a synthetic emerald then make sure that it is priced less than the natural ones.

A simple way to tell whether a stone is synthetic or natural is to observe its surface texture. Synthetic emeralds appear cleaner than natural emeralds since they don’t possess any natural impurity.

Some other techniques which can help you find out the genuineness of an emerald:

Check hues and reflection

A natural emerald usually doesn’t possess non-green hues. The secondary undertone of any color other than green indicates that the emerald is a fake. Another way to check is to expose it to light. If the stone exhibits colorful reflections, it is probably bogus. Real emeralds don’t reflect strong flashes.

Clarity can tell the authenticity of an emerald

Remember a general rule, the clearer the stone looks, the greater the chances that it is fake. You can use a normal magnifying glass to check the clarity of the stone. In natural emeralds, you will observe bubbles and crystal formations inside the stone, while synthetic ones don’t possess such imperfections.

How to identify fake Ambers?

Falling in the color range between gold and orange, this gem made of a fossilized tree resin has been appreciated by human beings since the Stone Age. It is imperative to know the difference between real and fake ambers because real ambers are used for different purposes.

  • They are used as decorative objects and in jewelry
  • Since they are a tree resin, real ambers are also used as ingredients in perfumes and scents
  • Many people use amber for its range of healing properties

Buoyancy test

If you want to test the beads of amber for their originality, then you can conduct a salt solution test. Put the amber stones in a supersaturated salt solution. Real ambers will not sink, while the fake ones will touch the bottom.

Scratch Test

Remember that not all ambers are same in their price. Ambers that are used for health benefits are cheaper than the ones that are used in jewelry. Only inexpensive amber can be subjected to this test. Just scratch the surface of the amber with any metallic object using soft hands. Fake ambers (usually made of glass) won’t get any scratches on their surfaces.

Electrostatic test

There is another tree resin by the name of copal, which is also sold as amber because its surface texture is almost identical to real amber. To know whether you are holding amber or a copal, you can simply perform an electrostatic test on the stone to find its authenticity.

When rubbed continuously for a minute, real amber produces an electrostatic field around it. You can test this using a tiny piece of paper or a strand of hair. If paper pieces or hair strands stick to the stone, it means that there is an electrostatic field presentand that the stone is real.

Six Metals that are Rarer than Gold

Rare Metals on DisplayThere are six metals in nature that are rarer than gold and possess their own unique properties. In this article, we will shed some light on these relatively unknown elements and their uses.

Ruthenium

In the 1840s, Russian chemist, Karl Ernst Claus, provided evidence for the existence of new element in platinum ore. This new element was then named after the ancient name of Russia, Ruthenia.

Ruthenium has a silver-like sheen. It is a hard metal with a melting point between 2300 to 2450 degrees Celsius and boiling point that ranges between 3900 to 4150 degrees Celsius. Ruthenium is a relatively non-reactive metal. It doesn’t dissolve in most acids, and reacts only with those metals that have similar chemical properties. At room temperature, it doesn’t react to air, but higher temperatures can make it reactive to oxygen.

In nature, it is mostly found in platinum ores. Ruthenium is also obtained as a byproduct of  nickel refining. This platinum metal is so rare that its abundance is only 0.0004 parts per million in  nature.

Uses

Ruthenium is used in the production of different alloys due to its hardness and inertness to oxygen. Electrical contacts used to measure extreme temperatures usually contain ruthenium alloys.

Palladium

It resembles ruthenium in appearance, but has vastly different physical and chemical properties For instance, unlike ruthenium, it dissolves in aqua regia. Like other platinum group elements, palladium is mostly found in copper and nickel ore, however, small deposits of uncombined platinum have been found in Brazil. Palladium is 15 times rarer than platinum, and is considered to be highly toxic and carcinogenic.  

Uses

It is used in the making of an alloy — white gold — which is extensively used in jewelry making. Nowadays, palladium is being used in many electrical appliances as the component material of multi-layer ceramic capacitors.

Rhenium

Rhenium was discovered by a German team in the 1920s. It was the last discovered naturally occurring element. Chile, The United Kingdom, and Germany are major exporters of this rare metal. Rhenium is usually extracted from molybdenites and columbite ores.

Uses

Rhenium is used to make superalloys that are used to make parts of jet engines and gas turbine engines. They are also used in the making of temperature controlling devices and heating elements.

Rhenium is also used as a catalyst to fracture the natural petroleum extracts into more useful products like gasoline, diesel.

Iridium

Iridium is another rare earth metal with a high density and a melting point. Its reactive tendencies are similar to that of gold. Iridium is also extracted during the process of nickel refining. Like other platinum family group members, it is very rare and used for very specific purposes.

Uses

Alloys made of iridium are used to make bearings used in compasses. Due to its high density and melting point, it is also used to make standard meter bars. It is also used as an electric contact in spark plugs due to its inertness and high melting point.

Rhodium

Rhodium is another rare metal from the same family of rare elements. In fact, it also resembles other metals of the group. Rhodium is highly conductive and is extremely resistant to corrosion.

Uses

Rhodium is used as catalyst in the making of acetic acid, nitric acid and other hydrogenation reactions. One of the distinctive uses of rhodium is the part it plays in catalytic converters of cars. It is used to reduce the formation of nitric oxide in exhausts gases of the car.

Osmium

It is the densest of all the rare metals of the platinum family. It is a hard bluish metal with powerful properties as an oxidizing agent. It can be extracted from platinum bearing ores in North America, South America and Urals.

Uses

Due to its high density, it is used to make different instrument pivots and electrical contacts. An amorphous form of the metal can be used for staining on microscopic slides and detecting fingerprints.

The distinctive and unique uses of all these six rare metals tell us that while they belong to the same metal family, their properties go beyond the familial bond they share. Each individual metal has its own unique traits that distinguish it from the rest.