Water/Hycean Worlds & Oceanography

New Questions on How Earth's Atmosphere and Oceans Formed

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
Australian National University
February 27, 2017
Filed under
New Questions on How Earth's Atmosphere and Oceans Formed

A new study led by The Australian National University (ANU) has found seawater cycles throughout the Earth’s interior down to 2,900 km (1,800 miles), much deeper than previously thought, reopening questions about how the atmosphere and oceans formed.

A popular theory is that the atmosphere and oceans formed by releasing water and gases from the Earth’s mantle through volcanic activity during the planet’s first 100 million years.

But lead researcher Dr. Mark Kendrick from ANU said the new study provided evidence to question this theory.

“Our findings make alternative theories for the origin of the atmosphere and oceans equally plausible, such as icy comets or meteorites bringing water to the Earth,” said Dr. Kendrick from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

Seawater is introduced into the Earth’s interior when two tectonic plates converge and one plate is pushed underneath the other into the mantle.

The study has overturned the notion that seawater only makes it about 100 km (60 miles) into the mantle before it is returned to the Earth’s surface through volcanic arcs, such as those forming the Pacific Ring of Fire that runs through the western America’s, Japan and Tonga.

The team analysed samples of volcanic glass from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans that contained traces of seawater that had been deeply cycled throughout Earth’s interior.

“The combination of water and halogens found in the volcanic glasses enables us to preclude local seawater contamination and conclusively prove the water in the samples was derived from the mantle,” Dr. Kendrick said.

Reference: The study is published in Nature Geoscience [http://www.nature.com/ngeo/index.html]. A copy of the paper can be provided to journalists upon request. ANU collaborated on the study with the University of Tasmania, Institut Universitaire Europeen de la Mer in France, the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, and the University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Florida in the United States.

Australian National University (ANU) is a world-leading university in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Our location points to our unique history, ties to the Australian Government and special standing as a resource for the Australian people. Our focus on research as an asset, and an approach to education, ensures our graduates are in demand the world-over for their abilities to understand, and apply vision and creativity to addressing complex contemporary challenges.

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