Monday, April 3, 2017

The most convincing evidence for CO2 increase

Today global warming and climate change are widely discussed. Many people refer to "scientific evidence" that proves that climate change is caused by humans, by burning fossil fuel in particular. However, I rarely hear on public media discussion of the actual data and interpretations that serve as the scientific evidence for human-induced climate change. May be there would be more productive conversation between different members of our society on climate change if the public media discussions included some background on the scientific evidence. 

Human-induced climate change has expressed itself in elevated concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Elevated CO2 is a consequence of releasing carbon in the atmosphere through burning fossil fuel like coal and petrol. Among multiple evidences for such change, glacial ice cores represent the most convincing indication of human-induced elevated CO2 levels. As glacial ice forms every year it trap atmospheric air in the form of bubbles. Extracted from drill holes, glacial ice cores can be accurately dated to the recent time line (back to several thousand years). Extracted air bubbles are analyzed for concentration of gases and isotopic composition of the gases. This graph below copied from "Stable Isotope Geochemistry" by Hoefs represents the most convincing evidence for human-induced climate change.


 

Clear increase in CO2 concentration (plot a) starting at about 1850 marks the bloom of the industrial era. Plot B shows the carbon isotopic composition (δ13C, ‰; delta carbon thirteen) of CO2 from the atmosphere. Starting from industrial era, it becomes more negative, meaning CO2 molecules in the atmosphere are increasingly depleted in the heavier isotope of carbon - 13C - with respect to the lighter carbon, 12C. Organic matter, like coal, is extremely "light" carbon, means it is depleted in heavy carbon 13C. Burning such "light" source of carbon makes CO2 in the atmosphere "light" as well. Just for clarification, I include here a diagram from the same book on isotopic composition of all carbon sources known to Earth. It show that organic matter (such as fossil fuel) is the source of isotopically "light" carbon.

 


EDIT:
It was pointed out that the isotopic composition of CO2 from volcanoes should be shown too since volcanic emanations contribute to the level of atmospheric CO2. Valid point. The δ13C from volcanoes is almost identical to the δ13C of the air. See attached diagram. 
The image is taken from a Pennsylvania State University website
 

Monday, March 6, 2017

How it's done: fluid inslusion measurements (VIDEO)

Imagine a crystal of quartz growing from a hot hydrothermal fluid. Since no mineral grows without imperfections, quartz will trap some of the surrounding hydrothermal fluid (see picture below). As quartz cools down, the trapped fluid inside cools down too and it shrinks. That volume change is expressed in appearance of vapor bubble. Trapped fluid now consists of two phases - vapor and liquid. Fluid inclusions like that have a bubble and liquid now and are commonly found in hydrothermal quartz. Samples of quartz in which such fluid inclusions can be found are used as thermometers. One can heated up a fluid inclusion with bubble and liquid to make liquid and vapor become one. Such transition is called homogenization. The temperature of this transition represents the temperature when the quartz was formed. This method is well established and applied by a wide range of geoscientists, mostly economic geologists and geochemists.


 Healing of a imperfection (crack) in quartz. Surrounding fluid gets trapped. Adopted from Roedder, 1984.

An example of a fluid inclusion with bubble

Moreover, information about salinity of the hydrothermal fluid can be extracted from fluid inclusions. The freezing point of pure water is ~0°C. The freezing point of saline water is lower than that. For example seawater freezes at -2°C. Fluids with higher salinity freeze at lower freezing points. Here's the set up at Mark Reed's lab, University of Oregon for conducting heating and freezing measurements. 
 Fluid inclusion thermometry set up at University of Oregon, Mark Reed's lab

For homogenization measurements a heating element is used in combination with air flow. The element warms up the sample and thermocouple is used for measuring the temperature. A researcher regulates the temperature and observes a fluid inclusion with a bubble and liquid under the microscope. When the bubble and liquid become one (homogenize), researcher presses the footswitch and the temperature reading on the screen freezes. Careful measurements and keeping good track of inclusions (logging, taking pictures, drawings) produces the best results. Here how the stage for these measurements look like.
 Amount 300 microns thick double-polished sample of quartz is held in the camera, between 6 layers of glass and pinned down by thermocouple tip. The heat blows from the left (where the paper label was burnt) 

For conducting freezing experiments, compressed nitrogen gas is used to transfer liquid nitrogen through a set of tubing into the same stage. The sample experiences liquid nitrogen temperature of -195°C. After a fluid inclusion of interest becomes frozen (which is seen under microscope), a researcher needs to warm up the stage until ice crystals start to melt away and record when the last ice crystal disappears. That temperature is the freezing point.

Here's videos showing both heating and freezing experiments. Different inclusions are used. The stage of the microscope moves slightly so the field of view merges a little bit. I tried to maintain good focus through out the videos.The field of view in these videos is about
 
 Heating a fluid inclusion that homogenizes via vapor+liquid->liquid at 241°C.

Freezing an inclusion that have freezing point of -8°C which corresponds to salinity of about 10 wt. % NaCl.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another outcrop, another story

Northern New Mexico offers to see a beautiful story of volcanic eruptions associated with Rio Grande rifting that was active. The river of Rio Grande carved canyon in Taos plateau exposing extensive flows of 5 million year old basalts and minor andesites and dacites. Here's one particular outcrop that provides a snapshot of geological history of the region:



The story goes like this (from bottom up):

Paleosol (old soil) marks the period of surface erosion. Underlying rock is exposed to the atmosphere and is being broken down to produce soil. The paleosol contains remnants of root channels and other traces of  life on land. Based on the ages of underlying rocks the soil was developing about 5 million years ago.

Baked and oxidized paleosol was developed because hot lava was flowing on top of moist soil. At high temperature, available iron and water and oxygen was reacting resulting in oxidation of that iron.

Crumbly breccia, aa-lava newly erupted lava was flowing on top of the soil, cooling down quickly which resulted in partly solidified rock flowing in highly viscous lava. Solidification of the material produced crumbly, chunky aggregate commonly called 'a'a-lava. The rock was erupted about 4.8 million years ago.

Massive dacite is produced by massive outflow of dacitic lava that was hot enough to flow and cool down continuously.

Sheared dacite reflects interesting property of the silisic lava. Because of high SiO2 content dacite polymerizes more so than a mafic lava, resulting in its comparatively high viscosity. So when it cools down it viscosity is so high, that lava can't flow anymore, it starts to shear. 

Geologist has something to learn about Taos plateau volcanic field. He was erupted about 25 years ago.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Laxford bridge: famous outcrop in Scottish Highlands

This outcrop is exposed along the roadcut of the A838 road in NW Scotland. It can be found at coordinates 58°23'24.43"N   5° 1'29.66"W. Google map streets view. Also called as multi-coloured rock stop, the outcrop became famous because it shows conspicuous cross-cutting relationship between the oldest rocks in Europe. The Precambrian rocks exposed here tells us a story: from oldest to youngest units can be distinguished by cross-cutting boundaries between them. The oldest rock in Scotland is Lewisian gneiss (grey). The original rock formed about 3 billion years ago and was metamorphosed multiple times (so now it's called gneiss). Then it was cut by mafic intrusions (black), or dykes (British spelling preserved), at about 2.5 billion years ago. Then all of these units were cut by granitic intrusions (pink), much later at about 1.8 billion years ago. After than, the whole assembly of rocks experienced metamorphism that shaped it's final look (sheared and stretched). Remember, the age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years, these rocks are really old!
Here's the outcrop with boundaries shown schematically.




Saturday, August 20, 2016

Where basalt meets seawater


Imagine a mid-ocean ridge. Between two diverging plates, a volume of molten basalt is constantly being oozed out of the mantle. The molten basalt itself is really hot, over 1000°C. In contact with cool seawater it quenches instantaneously into volcanic glass. However, in areas (open cracks, for example) where permeable freshly erupted basalt is available, seawater reacts with it at 200-500°C. After the reaction basalts acquire new look, or we say, it becomes altered, - it has new minerals in it. From igneous and water-free rock, basalt converts to water-bearing hydrothermal mineral assemblages. These areas of hydrothermal activity are partly responsible for modern seawater chemical (and isotopic) composition and its acidity. Reacting basalt supplies Mg, Si, Ca and other elements into the seawater. In turn, the reaction with basalt sucks out other elements out of seawater, such as Na and S. I will show that at some point, reacted seawater can become pretty acidic with pH of 3.8. These underwater hot springs frequently form black smokers where unusual forms of life can exist because of the supply of heat. 
Here, I wanted to show the result of a modeled experiment. I virtually took basalt of common composition (MORB) and incrementally added it to fixed amount of seawater. Starting with very small amounts increasing step by step, I could model different situations where various amount of rock is reacting with seawater. In my imagination it simulates variable amount of space where seawater could touch basalt and react with it. From very wide open cracks to porous basalt. In terms of water-to-rock ratio, the numbers will go from very high (open crack - water dominated system) to a very low (rock-dominated situation, water only in pores). The purpose of my modeling was to predict what minerals form during the reaction between basalt and seawater. Knowing thermodynamic conditions of mineral formation, the program could tell me what minerals will be found stable. 
The graph shows concentrations of products of reaction between seawater and basalt at 300°C. The right side of the graph can be interpreted as pure seawater (very little rock added), thus the water-to-rock ratio is really high. Without any involvement of basalt, seawater is oversaturated with anhydrite and brucite. Depending on the proportion of rock in the mixture, different minerals will precipitate. Moving to the left along the horizontal axis, more rock is reacting with seawater. At very high water-rock ratios, basalt turns into a mixture mostly consisting of anhydrite, serpentine, hematite, talc and chlorite. At low water-rock ratios (basalt-dominated system), the products of reacting are albite, amphibole (mostly tremolite), zeolites, pyrite, quartz and epidote. These minerals compose a large portion of seafloor, mostly it's deeper layers because at some point they underwent high temperature hydrothermal alteration at mid-ocean ridges.

In turn, the left over seawater has modified concentrations of ion dissolved in it.