Study Sheds Light on Mercury Mineral Evolution

by johnsmith


A new study has demonstrated that the creation of most minerals containing mercury is fundamentally linked to several episodes of supercontinent assembly over the last 3 billion years.

Cinnabar, the most common ore of mercury, on dolomite (JJ Harrison /

Mineral evolution posits that Earth’s near-surface mineral diversity gradually increased through an array of chemical and biological processes. A dozen different species in interstellar dust particles that formed the Solar system have evolved to more than 4500 species today.

Previous works demonstrated that up to two thirds of the known types of minerals on Earth can be directly or indirectly linked to biological activity.

Now Dr Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution and his colleagues have focused specifically on minerals containing the element mercury and their evolution on our planet as a result of geological and biological activity.

The researchers examined the first-documented appearances of these 90 different mercury-containing minerals on Earth.

They were able to correlate much of this new mineral creation with episodes of supercontinent formation – periods when most of Earth’s dry land converged into single landmasses. They found that of the 60 mercury-containing minerals that first appeared on Earth between 2.8 billion and 65 million years ago, 50 were created during three periods of supercontinent assembly.

Their analysis suggests that the evolution of new mercury-containing minerals followed periods of continental collision and mineralization associated with mountain formation. The results were published in the journal American Mineralogist.

By contrast, far fewer types of mercury-containing minerals formed during periods when these supercontinents were stable, or when they were breaking apart. And in one striking exception to this trend, the billion-year-long interval that included the assembly of the Rodinian supercontinent (approximately 1.8 to 0.8 billion years ago) saw no mercury mineralization anywhere on Earth. The team speculates that this hiatus could have been due to a sulfide-rich ocean, which quickly reacted with any available mercury and thus prevented mercury from interacting chemically with other elements.

The role of biology is also critical in understanding the mineral evolution of mercury. Although mercury is rarely directly involved in biological processes – except in some rare bacteria – its interactions with oxygen came about entirely due to the appearance of the photosynthetic process, which plants and certain bacteria use to convert sunlight into chemical energy. Mercury also has a strong affinity for carbon-based compounds that come from biological material, such as coal, shale, petroleum, and natural gas products.

“Our work shows that in the case of mercury, evolution seems to have been driven by hydrothermal activity associated with continents colliding and forming mountain ranges, as well as by the drastic increase in oxygen caused by the rise of life on Earth,” Dr Hazen said. “Future work will have to correlate specific mineral occurrences to specific tectonic events.”


Bibliographic information: Hazen RM et al. 2012. Mercury (Hg) mineral evolution: A mineralogical record of supercontinent assembly, changing ocean geochemistry, and the emerging terrestrial biosphere. American Mineralogist 97, pages 1013–1042; doi: 10.2138/am.2012.3922

Source link:

Source link:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Adblock Detected

Please support us by disabling your AdBlocker extension from your browsers for our website.