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Mysterious mineral found in the sea will cool the earth, so could the ice age come soon?

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Mysterious mineral found in the sea

Geologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have identified a clay mineral called smectite that has the remarkable ability to capture and store carbon for millions of years, potentially playing a key role in cooling our planet. Found within complex layers of the ocean floor, smectite’s accordion-like structure is adept at trapping organic carbon, raising the possibility that ice caps may soon begin.

Research has shown that as oceanic crust collides with continental plates, these rocks are pushed to the surface and turn into various minerals, including smectite. This mineral then returns to the ocean floor, trapping the remains of dead organisms in its microscopic layers, preventing the carbon from re-entering the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, thereby preventing atmospheric cooling. The probability increases.

Scientists’ research increases concern

This natural phenomenon is a matter of concern. MIT researchers, led by graduate student Joshua Murray and geology professor Oliver Jagautz, have traced the production of smectite through several major tectonic events over the past 500 million years. Their findings show that each time these soils formed in sufficient quantities, they could contribute to cooling of the Earth, even inducing ice ages. Published in the prestigious journal Nature Geoscience, their research establishes a direct link between plate tectonics and the onset of ice ages through the formation of carbon-sequestering smectite.

Revealed in soil test

The study builds on previous work by the same team, which proposed that tropical tectonic events exposed some oceanic rocks, creating minerals that influenced climate. To confirm their hypothesis, the team delved deep into the geological record, examining the weathering patterns of magmatic minerals and the types of soils they produce. They incorporated these findings into simulations of Earth’s carbon cycle to determine the impact of each mineral.

fingerprints found

Smectite emerged not only as a product of tropical tectonics, but also as an incredibly efficient collector of organic carbon. Although direct measurement of ancient smectite is challenging due to geological changes over time, the presence of elements such as nickel and chromium associated with smectite-producing rocks in sedimentary deposits provided the “fingerprints” needed to support the team’s theory. The cumulative effect of smectite on carbon conservation, while appearing to be less than one-tenth of one percent, is substantial over geological time scales. Researchers estimate that this small percentage was enough to trigger the planet’s four major ice ages.

Climate challenges are increasing

The discovery not only enhances our understanding of Earth’s climate history but also opens up possibilities for future climate change mitigation strategies. For example, smectite could be used to stabilize carbon-rich permafrost areas threatened by global warming. As the world grapples with the growing climate crisis, the MIT team’s work shows the importance of considering all aspects of the global carbon cycle. It also highlights the potential of harnessing natural processes to address human-induced climate challenges.

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