Iron-Rich Rocks Reveal Fresh Information About Earth's Planetary History: Study

    Inam Ansari
    May29/ 2023

    Washington: Banded iron formations, sedimentary rocks that may have caused some of the biggest volcanic eruptions in Earth's history, contain visually spectacular layers of burned orange, yellow, silver, brown, and blue-tinged black colours, according to a new study. These rocks contain iron oxides that sank to the bottom of oceans long ago, forming dense layers that eventually turned to stone. The study published this week in Nature Geoscience suggests the iron-rich layers could connect ancient changes at Earth's surface -- like the emergence of photosynthetic life -- to planetary processes like volcanism and plate tectonics. In addition to linking planetary processes that were generally thought to be unconnected, the study could reframe scientists' understanding of Earth's early history and provide insight into processes that could produce habitable exoplanets far from our solar system. "These rocks tell -- quite literally -- the story of a changing planetary environment," said Duncan Keller, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in Rice's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. "They embody a change in the atmospheric and ocean chemistry." Banded iron formations are chemical sediments precipitated directly from ancient seawater rich in dissolved iron. Metabolic actions of microorganisms, including photosynthesis, are thought to have facilitated the precipitation of the minerals, which formed layer upon layer over time along with chert (microcrystalline silicon dioxide). The largest deposits formed as oxygen accumulated in Earth's atmosphere about 2.5 billion years ago. "These rocks formed in the ancient oceans, and we know that those oceans were later closed up laterally by plate tectonic processes ...

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