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Mercury mineral evolution
Date:6/25/2012

Washington, D.C. -- 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 work from Carnegie's Bob Hazen demonstrated that up to two thirds of the known types of minerals on Earth can be directly or indirectly linked to biological activity. Now Hazen has turned his focus specifically on minerals containing the element mercury and their evolution on our planet as a result of geological and biological activity. His work, published in American Mineralogist, demonstrates that the creation of most minerals containing mercury is fundamentally linked to several episodes of supercontinent assembly over the last 3 billion years.

Mineral evolution is an approach to understanding Earth's changing near-surface geochemistry. All chemical elements were present from the start of our Solar System, but at first they formed comparatively few minerals--perhaps no more than 500 different species in the first billion years. As time passed on the planet, novel combinations of elements led to new minerals. Although as much as 50% of the mercury that contributed to Earth's accretion was lost to volatile chemical processing, 4.5 billion years of mineral evolution has led to at least 90 different mercury-containing minerals now found on Earth.

Hazen and his team 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 an
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Contact: Robert Hazen
rhazen@ciw.edu
Carnegie Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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