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Green Olivine Could Be ‘Crystal Clock’ Revealing Volcanic History

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Most people in Hawaii are familiar with olivine, a beautiful light green mineral in the basalt rock that makes Mahana Beach on Hawaii Island one of the few “green sand” beaches in the world. Researchers use olivine as a type of “crystal clock,” where its chemical composition (especially how its chemical elements are distributed from nucleus to edge) can be analyzed and exploited to read time information. The survey is being led by a university of Hawaii to Mānoa’s Associate Researcher, who received $ 554,181 from a National Science Foundation CAREER Prize over the next five years.

Thomas shea plans to experimentally calibrate these crystal clocks in a laboratory and apply the results to understand natural systems on Hawaii Isle.

Thomas shea

EUH has been for many decades an essential and a leader in the study of active volcanoes, ”said Shea, who works in the Department of Earth Sciences at the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology. . “I hope to continue this long tradition of research in transboundary volcanology with many of my colleagues from EUH and in collaboration with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, part of the United States Geological Survey. Hawaii is such a special place on Earth geologically, and we regard the study of our dynamic environment and natural hazards as an absolutely critical mission of EUH. “

Informing and engaging students about careers in Earth Sciences is of the utmost importance for Hawaii and one of the main efforts of the five-year award. As far as research evidence goes, given the destructive result of the last major eruption of the Kīlauea volcano in 2018, a better understanding of the timing of events occurring below the surface prior to these eruptions is also of utmost importance for Hawaii.

An exploratory aspect of the work planned for this award is to use a set of samples taken from a hot lava lake over nearly 30 years (1959-88). A large eruption filled an existing crater at the top of Kīlauea in 1959 with a lava lake, and this lake formed a hard crust and took over 40 years to fully solidify (62 years later, this lava is more molten but still hot deep beneath).

During those years, scientists drilled through the hard crust to sample lava at varying depths, and repeatedly over three decades.

“Today we have a remarkable time series of samples from the 1960s-80s that look like a 30-year magma cooling experiment where we can follow the chemical changes in olivine and see if they behave like this. faithful “crystal clocks” that we can take advantage of in more recent and future eruptions, “said Shea.

This work is an example of EUH Mānoa’s research excellence goal: to advance the business of research and creative work (PDF), one of the four objectives identified in the 2015-25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

Promote earth sciences for Hawaii students

The educational component of the award proposes to use hands-on experimentation and active learning to achieve Hawaii students (especially at pre-university level) enthusiastic about STEM and discover some of the fascinating facets of earth sciences. This will involve both on-site activities and on-site programs. EUH and go to high school classrooms Oahu and potentially Hawaii Isle.

“Part of our mission as scientists and educators – and part of our responsibility to the state of Hawaii “Is to study and understand natural phenomena and to educate our children and the local people,” added Shea. “Only a small percentage of our local students learn earth sciences in high schools across the state. Yet the coming decades pose formidable challenges in terms of risks associated with natural phenomena, not just volcanic eruptions on our four most active volcanoes (Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, Hualālai and Haleakalā) but coastal erosion, the survival of reefs and climate change.


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