Seismic study will help keep carbon underground

– JUNE 17, 2021

Department of Energy grant backs development of Jonathan Ajo-Franklin’s fiber-optic monitors

Rice University geoscientists and their colleagues will develop sophisticated fiber-optic sensors and seismic sources to find and evaluate small faults deep underground at sites that store carbon dioxide (CO2) to keep it out of the atmosphere.

Rice University graduate student Valeriia Sobolevskaia at the on-campus well site being developed to help geoscientists continue development of fiber-optic sensors to find and evaluate small faults at underground carbon dioxide storage reservoirs. Courtesy of the Ajo-Franklin Lab

The Department of Energy has awarded Rice geoscientist Jonathan Ajo-Franklin $1.2 million to adapt his lab’s distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) method to monitor storage sites where reactivation of small faults could allow leakage into adjacent groundwater or the atmosphere. The project is part of $4 million in grants announced in late May to enhance the safety and security of CO2 storage.

Capturing CO2 and sequestering it underground, often in former oil and gas reservoirs, is seen as a way to bring the nation closer to its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Moving forward, we need to focus on reducing emissions, even while fossil fuels are still part of the mix,” Ajo-Franklin said. “Geologic carbon storage has always been viewed as a stopgap solution during the energy transition, but if we can delay emissions for hundreds to thousands of years by keeping it underground, that’s a win.”

The Rice project, with collaborators at Pennsylvania State University and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, aims to enhance Department of Energy-funded technologies known collectively as “continuous active source seismic monitoring” with DAS, which employs fiber-optic sensors permanently installed in boreholes at storage sites.

The sensors would provide better resolution of seismic property changes at a lower cost than current techniques, Ajo-Franklin said. Distributing multiple sensors at an installation would enable the detection of mechanical changes in the rock that could impact a reservoir.

 

Jonathan Ajo-Franklin.

Jonathan Ajo-Franklin

“Surface seismology is actually pretty good at finding faults in sedimentary systems,” he said. “That’s what a lot of oil and gas exploration is built around. We’re trying to understand what it looks like if you pressurize a small fault and cause flow along it. To do a good study, we need to reactivate a fault.”

The Rice team is well ahead of the game, with plans to test the ability of DAS to detect small seismic ruptures at an underground geological laboratory in Switzerland. “Mont Terri has an easily accessible fault within a shale formation that we can pressurize with CO2 and image a rupturing fault patch as it slips in a controlled way.”

Building on his research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where researchers employed undersea telecommunication cable to measure earthquakes for a study in Science, Ajo-Franklin and his group have also drilled three instrumented wells in an out-of-the-way spot on the Rice campus for long-duration tests of their instruments and how they compare to more traditional seismic sensors called geophones.

Ajo-Franklin said federal tax credits enacted in recent years have made carbon sequestration more viable, especially at sites with what he called “clean CO2 streams” that need little processing before injecting back into the ground.

Rice University geoscientist Jonathan Ajo-Franklin and his group have drilled three wells in an out-of-the-way spot on campus for long-duration tests of their fiber-optic instruments. Ajo-Franklin is leading a project funded by the Department of Energy to find and evaluate small faults deep underground at sites that store carbon dioxide (CO2) to keep it out of the atmosphere. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

“Until very recently, there wasn’t a reasonable tax or other monetary incentive for companies to do capture and injection,” he said. “They’re not going to do it for free, because the capital investments are very large.”

He noted CO2 storage could become big business in Texas, where tapped-out reservoirs abound. “Luckily, there are plenty of reservoirs on the Gulf Coast that have already been explored for oil and gas production and are very permeable,” he said.

How planets form controls elements essential for life

MIKE WILLIAMS – MAY 10, 2021

Rice scientists attribute Earth’s nitrogen to rapid growth of moon- to Mars-sized bodies
The prospects for life on a given planet depend not only on where it forms but also how, according to Rice University scientists.

Planets like Earth that orbit within a solar system’s Goldilocks zone, with conditions supporting liquid water and a rich atmosphere, are more likely to harbor life. As it turns out, how that planet came together also determines whether it captured and retained certain volatile elements and compounds, including nitrogen, carbon and water, that give rise to life.

In a study published in Nature Geoscience, Rice graduate student and lead author Damanveer Grewal and Professor Rajdeep Dasgupta show the competition between the time it takes for material to accrete into a protoplanet and the time the protoplanet takes to separate into its distinct layers — a metallic core, a shell of silicate mantle and an atmospheric envelope in a process called planetary differentiation — is critical in determining what volatile elements the rocky planet retains.

Nitrogen-bearing, Earth-like planets can be formed if their feedstock material grows quickly to around moon- and Mars-sized planetary embryos before separating into core-mantle-crust-atmosphere, according to Rice University scientists. If metal-silicate differentiation is faster than the growth of planetary embryo-sized bodies, then solid reservoirs fail to retain much nitrogen and planets growing from such feedstock become extremely nitrogen-poor. (Credit: Illustration by Amrita P. Vyas/Rice University)

 

Using nitrogen as proxy for volatiles, the researchers showed most of the nitrogen escapes into the atmosphere of protoplanets during differentiation. This nitrogen is subsequently lost to space as the protoplanet either cools down or collides with other protoplanets or cosmic bodies during the next stage of its growth.

This process depletes nitrogen in the atmosphere and mantle of rocky planets, but if the metallic core retains enough, it could still be a significant source of nitrogen during the formation of Earth-like planets.

Dasgupta’s high-pressure lab at Rice captured protoplanetary differentiation in action to show the affinity of nitrogen toward metallic cores.

“We simulated high pressure-temperature conditions by subjecting a mixture of nitrogen-bearing metal and silicate powders to nearly 30,000 times the atmospheric pressure and heating them beyond their melting points,” Grewal said. “Small metallic blobs embedded in the silicate glasses of the recovered samples were the respective analogs of protoplanetary cores and mantles.”

Rice University graduate student Damanveer Grewal, left, and geochemist Rajdeep Dasgupta discuss their experiments in the lab, where they compress complex mixtures of elements to simulate conditions deep in protoplanets and planets. In a new study, they determined that how a planet comes together has implications for whether it captures and retains the volatile elements, including nitrogen, carbon and water, essential to life. (Credit: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University)

 

Using this experimental data, the researchers modeled the thermodynamic relationships to show how nitrogen distributes between the atmosphere, molten silicate and core.

“We realized that fractionation of nitrogen between all these reservoirs is very sensitive to the size of the body,” Grewal said. “Using this idea, we could calculate how nitrogen would have separated between different reservoirs of protoplanetary bodies through time to finally build a habitable planet like Earth.”

Their theory suggests that feedstock materials for Earth grew quickly to around moon- and Mars-sized planetary embryos before they completed the process of differentiating into the familiar metal-silicate-gas vapor arrangement.

In general, they estimate the embryos formed within 1-2 million years of the beginning of the solar system, far sooner than the time it took for them to completely differentiate. If the rate of differentiation was faster than the rate of accretion for these embryos, the rocky planets forming from them could not have accreted enough nitrogen, and likely other volatiles, critical to developing conditions that support life.

“Our calculations show that forming an Earth-size planet via planetary embryos that grew extremely quickly before undergoing metal-silicate differentiation sets a unique pathway to satisfy Earth’s nitrogen budget,” said Dasgupta, the principal investigator of CLEVER Planets, a NASA-funded collaborative project exploring how life-essential elements might have come together on rocky planets in our solar system or on distant, rocky exoplanets.

Rice University geochemists analyzed experimental samples of coexisting metals and silicates to learn how they would chemically interact when placed under pressures and temperatures similar to those experienced by differentiating protoplanets. Using nitrogen as a proxy, they theorize that how a planet comes together has implications for whether it captures and retains volatile elements essential to life. (Credit: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University)

 

“This work shows there’s much greater affinity of nitrogen toward core-forming metallic liquid than previously thought,” he said.

The study follows earlier works, one showing how the impact by a moon-forming body could have given Earth much of its volatile content, and another suggesting that the planet gained more of its nitrogen from local sources in the solar system than once believed.

In the latter study, Grewal said, “We showed that protoplanets growing in both inner and outer regions of the solar system accreted nitrogen, and Earth sourced its nitrogen by accreting protoplanets from both of these regions. However, it was unknown as to how the nitrogen budget of Earth was established.”

“We are making a big claim that will go beyond just the topic of the origin of volatile elements and nitrogen, and will impact a cross-section of the scientific community interested in planet formation and growth,” Dasgupta said.

Rice undergraduate intern Taylor Hough and research intern Alexandra Farnell, then a student at St. John’s School in Houston and now an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, are co-authors of the study.

NASA grants, including one via the FINESST program, and a Lodieska Stockbridge Vaughn Fellowship at Rice supported the research.

EEPS joint faculty and Clever Planets scientist Pedram Hassanzadeh wins NSF CAREER Award

– APRIL 21, 2021

Grant will push study of atmospheric ‘blocking events’ that cause extreme weather

Remember Hurricane Harvey? Look west and there was an atmospheric block. Remember the Great Freeze of 2021? Look north and there was a block.

Atmospheric blocking is known to cause or exacerbate extreme weather events, but much about them remains a mystery. Rice University fluid dynamicist Pedram Hassanzadeh has won a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award to study these events with an eye toward better understanding the physics behind their complex mechanics.

Pedram Hassanzadeh

Pedram Hassanzadeh

CAREER grants are awarded to fewer than 400 early career engineers and scientists each year who are expected to make significant impact in their disciplines.

The five-year, $735,000 award will allow Hassanzadeh and his lab to study blocks, which are large-scale, quasi-stationary, high-pressure systems that persist from five days to a few weeks in the middle latitudes between 40 and 60 degrees. In the northern hemisphere, this includes most of the United States and Canada.

“The main component of the middle latitude atmosphere is the jet stream of strong, turbulent winds in the first 10 kilometers of the atmosphere that generally go from west to east,” said Hassanzadeh, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Rice’s Brown School of Engineering. “They can be pretty fast, about 100 miles per hour on average, and you see them as wavy lines on the weather.

“The news also shows you high- and low-pressure systems, and generally these systems move and local weather changes daily,” he said. “But sometimes these high-pressure systems stop moving. They get stuck. And when that happens for more than five days, they’re called blocking events.”

They can wreak havoc, prompting heat waves and cold spells. “In 2010, there was a heatwave over Russia that lasted for a month and killed thousands,” Hassanzadeh said. “In 2003, there was one in France. And specifically for Houston, one reason Harvey didn’t move was because a blocking event over the western U.S., with clockwise circulation, prevented it from moving up. This year, during the cold snap, there was a blocking event over Canada.

“These events show up a lot in association with extreme weather but their dynamics are still not well-understood, even though people have been looking at them since the 1940s,” Hassanzadeh said. Poor understanding of the dynamics of blocks has hindered decades of effort focused on improving the prediction of extreme events and projecting how these events might change in the future, he said.

Blocks are thought to involve complex interactions between small and large turbulent swirling flows, and understanding them requires novel methods and approaches, Hassanzadeh said. His group has been developing such methods for atmospheric turbulence and extreme events.

An earlier study from his group used climate models to suggest blocking events in the northern hemisphere will become as much as 17% larger due to anthropogenic climate change.

Hassanzadeh also won one of 26 grants from the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program in 2020 to pursue improved weather/climate modeling capabilities using deep learning.

The CAREER grant includes funds for a Research Experiences for Teachers program with research positions and workshops for high-school science teachers. The grant will also facilitate the development of materials to teach climate science and a course to introduce college students to climate science and applications of math, advanced computing and artificial intelligence to climate research.

Rice team forges path toward geothermal future

MIKE WILLIAMS – FEBRUARY 26, 2021

Jonathan Ajo-Franklin leads development of monitoring system for DOE’s Utah project
HOUSTON – (Feb. 26, 2021) – Rice University scientists have been tapped to join a Department of Energy project to accelerate breakthroughs in geothermal systems that could someday provide unlimited, inexpensive energy.

Jonathan Ajo-Franklin

Rice geophysicist Jonathan Ajo-Franklin will now enter negotiations to finalize and ultimately lead the three-year project expected to be worth more than $5 million to develop a fiber optic system incorporating seismic and temperature sensing that can withstand high temperatures and provide real-time monitoring of conditions deep underground.

The grant to the Rice-led group includes faculty at California State University, Long Beach, and the University of Oklahoma as well as researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and industrial scientists from Silixa LLC and Class VI Solutions. The team was one of 17 named by DOE this week to develop a variety of technologies associated with the Utah Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (Utah FORGE). Collectively, the awards by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy could amount to $46 million.

The concept of Utah FORGE seems simple: Send cold water down, bring hot water back up and use it to generate electricity. But this project differs from similar systems around the world.

Utah FORGE has completed drilling of its first deviated well, a critical step in the enhanced geothermal project backed by the Department of Energy. Rice University scientists have been tapped to join the project to accelerate breakthroughs in geothermal systems that could someday provide unlimited, inexpensive energy. (Credit: Eric Larson)
Utah FORGE has completed drilling of its first deviated well, a critical step in the enhanced geothermal project backed by the Department of Energy. Rice University scientists have been tapped to join the project to accelerate breakthroughs in geothermal systems that could someday provide unlimited, inexpensive energy. Photo by Eric Larson

“The big difference is this is enhanced geothermal,” Ajo-Franklin said. “For traditional geothermal, you need the rock to be permeable so the water can flow through. In enhanced geothermal, you create fractures that allow the flow of water through the system to draw the heat out.

“It’s a little like the difference between normal oil production and unconventional production, like shale,” he said. “But in this case, we’re moving heat, using water as the working fluid.”

Along with managing the grant, Ajo-Franklin’s Rice Environmental and Applied Geophysics Laboratory will design and provide distributed fiber optic sensing resources and instrumentation for the project. Senior Rice personnel involved in the project include postdoctoral fellows Benxin Chi and Feng Cheng.

Some of the work at the facility in Milford, Utah, administered by the University of Utah, is already done, including an injection well completed this year that reaches more than 8,000 feet into the Earth, where the temperature exceeds 442 degrees Fahrenheit. (The wellbore itself is nearly 11,000 feet long, as it deviates 65 degrees at 6,000 feet.) That well extends into the zone Utah FORGE will use as a reservoir, where water will be stored for heating and later recovered via a to-be-drilled second well.

The team’s fibers will be placed in both the production well and a third, vertical well in the middle specifically for monitoring. The fiber optic cable itself will be coated with durable polyimide and encased in steel. Data returned by the sensor system will be used to generate a model of the site’s fracture permeability, which will guide further development of the reservoir.

A Rice University-led team of scientists plans to design and place fiber optic sensor systems into the monitor (center) and production (right) wells at the Utah FORGE geothermal plant under development. (Credit: Rice Environmental and Applied Geophysics Laboratory)

Ajo-Franklin expects the project will spin off technologies of value to geoscience in general. “You can use this technology for many applications where seismic events can help us better understand and image the Earth,” he said. “Fiber is great for that because we can record for long periods of time over long distances, and then use either artificial sources or naturally-occuring noise to generate images of properties underneath it.”

But for now, proving the viability of geothermal energy in the United States is of critical importance, Ajo-Franklin said.

The federal government agrees. “There is enormous untapped potential for enhanced geothermal systems to provide clean and reliable electricity generation throughout the United States,” said Kathleen Hogan, assistant deputy undersecretary for science, in a press release announcing the grants.

“The big thing about geothermal is its baseload capacity,” Ajo-Franklin said. “It’s not a situation where you need to move fuel to the site, because it’s all underground to begin with. And like renewables it doesn’t have a big carbon dioxide footprint, but it’s not intermittent.

“So in comparison to wind and solar, there’s no time when the Earth isn’t hot,” Ajo-Franklin said. “That’s a nice advantage, too.”

Video:

 

Credit: Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development

Related materials:

Telecom cables offer undersea seismic-sensing bonanza: https://news.rice.edu/2019/11/28/telecom-cables-offer-undersea-seismic-sensing-bonanza/

Rice Environmental and Applied Geophysics Laboratory (Ajo-Franklin lab): https://earthscience.rice.edu/ajo-franklin-lab/

Utah FORGE: https://utahforge.com

Rice Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences: https://earthscience.rice.edu

Wiess School of Natural Sciences: https://naturalsciences.rice.edu

 

Mars, happy to see you again

Kirsten Siebach reacts as the Perseverance rover hits the bullseye, landing at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. Photo by Brandon Martin

Kirsten Siebach reacts as the Perseverance rover hits the bullseye, landing at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. Photo by Brandon Martin

Terror, be gone! This happy landing was pure delight.

It remains to be seen how well the Perseverance rover and its helicopter, Ingenuity, perform as they traverse the surface of Mars, but for the moment NASA and Rice geologist Kirsten Siebach are getting a moment to celebrate with the spacecraft’s long-awaited successful landing on Feb. 18.

Siebach and her colleagues gave an hourlong talk and Q&A session via Zoom before the notorious “seven minutes of terror,” during which the spacecraft would be on its own to execute the complex landing sequence to Jezero Crater.

The action shifted to Rice’s Visualization Laboratory, where Siebach shared her reaction to live reports from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech with Rice video producer Brandon Martin.

The Perseverance work for Siebach is just beginning as she assumes her duties as a mission specialist tasked with helping operate the rover and scout for samples that will ultimately be brought back to Earth. These, she said, will lead to years of study to determine what Mars is made of, and whether life in any form ever existed there.

In the meantime, she is still studying data from the last rover to land, Curiosity, in 2012. She recently issued a paper that concluded the region’s climate was once like Iceland, and just this week was part of a paper that revealed the chemical contents of aqueous processes on a mixture of amorphous materials found at Gale Crater. That evidence suggests water persisted at Gale Crater for about 1 billion years.

Kirsten Siebach reacts as the Perseverance rover hits the bullseye, landing at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. Photo by Brandon Martin

Kirsten Siebach reacts as the Perseverance rover hits the bullseye, landing at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. Photo by Brandon Martin

Perserverance has Landed! Mars 2020 scientist Kirsten Siebach led EEPS landing party

 

EEPS assistant professor and Mars 2020 scientist Kirsten Siebach answers questions about the mission during EEPS virtual landing party.

Thursday February thee 18th was a big day.  From her office in the Keith Wiess Geological Laboratories, EEPS planetary scientist Kirsten Siebach led a Mars 2020 mission virtual landing party. More than 120 participants were treated to a first-hand account of the upcoming landing from one of only 13 scientists chosen to operate the rover and help select samples.

 

Siebach answered numerous questions about the Mars 2020 mission, the Perseverance Rover and its analytical instrument payload, and the sample collection activities that she will be helping to direct. You can watch both the Q&A and entire landing party zoom meeting HERE.

About 5 minutes before Perseverance lands, Kirsten Siebach joins undergraduate Madison Morris in the Chevron Visualization Lab to watch the landing on the large projection screen.

 

At about 5 minutes from Mars 2020 atmospheric entry, Kirsten moved to the EEPS Chevron Visualization Laboratory where she watched the final countdown—known as Entry Descent and Landing or EDL, with Rice undergraduate Madison Morris.  Morris is working with Siebach on research related to the upcoming rover activities.

The final 7-10 minutes, known as the ‘seven minutes of terror’, is the period during which the spacecraft must operate on its own, with no eyes to see and a 14 minute data delay back to Earth.

During those seven minutes, the spacecraft enters Mars atmosphere at almost 12,000 miles per hour (19,000 kmh).  Facing towards the planet, a heat shield is the only protection the rover has as it descends down to an altitude of about 1 mile (1.5 km).  The descent module then fires its engines to slow the spacecraft while JPL’s new terrain relative navigation system (TRN) identifies a place to land. The TRN scans the surface and compares it with maps of a landing ellipse that are already loaded into its database. A signal from the TRN triggers the deployment of a 70-foot (21-meter) diameter parachute that slows the craft further, bringing its descent down to a few meters per second. Finally, the hovering-landing sky crane system lowers the rover the rest of the way to the ground.

The flight engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory create a graphic that tracks Mars 2020 spacecraft milestones. Siebach and Morris watch intently the final steps of the deployment of the rover by the sky crane.

Siebach sits in silence, listening to the engineers mark each step in the process.  At the final minute she stands, looking intently at the screen.  As the flight engineers signal a successful deployment of the sky crane, cheers erupt on screen and in the Viz Lab.  Perseverance has landed!!!

Clenched fists and happy exclamations instead of hugs in celebration of a successful landing!

 

And the first picture from Jezero crater arrives.

Perseverance is proceeded by four other rovers, Sojourner in 1997, Spirt and Opportunity in 2004, and Curiosity in 2012. Perseverance is the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world. It traveled 293 million miles (472 million km) – over 203 days – to get to Mars. It will look directly for signs of past life on Mars, test ISRU tools, and collect samples from one of Mars oldest regions—what scientists believe is a river delta. The rocks in this region could tell us about Mars earliest wet history of the Red Planet and thus is a good target for signatures of past life.

 

Mars Perseverance rover scientist Kirsten Siebach is excited to see the first image from Jezero crater sent by Perseverance’s hazard camera.

Mark Torres wins Geochemical Society’s Clarke Award

Early-career honor goes to fourth Rice U. geochemist in 12 years

Rice University’s Mark Torres has won the Geochemical Society’s top honor for early-career scientists, the F.W. Clarke Award, becoming the fourth Rice faculty member to win the award since 2009.

Mark Torres with water samples collected from Iceland’s Efri Haukadalsá River in 2016. (Photo by Woodward Fisher)

Torres, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, joined Rice in 2017. He will receive the 2021 Clarke Award at the society’s annual meeting in July in recognition of “his work on the geochemistry of the Earth’s surface focused on interactions between the hydrosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and the crust.”

Torres said the impact of the honor sank in when he looked at the list of previous winners and recognized names from “papers I read as a student that really impressed me and sort of guided or shaped my thinking. To be on that same list is amazing. And then, similarly, to also have this legacy of so many other Rice faculty in my department winning. It’s fun to join the club.”

The Clarke Award honors outstanding contributions to geochemistry or cosmochemistry and is awarded to a single individual each year. Torres joins Rice Clarke Award winners Cin-Ty Lee (2009), Rajdeep Dasgupta (2011) and Laurence Yeung (2016).

Torres’ lab focuses on interactions between rock and water near Earth’s surface, the transport and burial of organic carbon and how the oxidation of sulfide minerals affects atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

“At Earth’s surface, materials like water and sediment tend to move and chemically react at the same time,” Torres said. “If you think about rivers, for example, there’s chemistry that happens as the river flows. Groundwater flows into the rivers, and there’s chemistry that happens during that process too.

“It turns out, how fast something moves dictates how much chemistry you can do,” he said. “Things happen at a certain rate, and how quickly something goes from point A to point B determines how much it can react. At the same time, the chemistry changes how fast it moves. Do sediment grains get smaller? Do they get bigger? Right? Do we dissolve things? Or do we precipitate new things? So, transport and reaction end up feeding back on each other, resulting in complex patterns. And so a lot of my research is sort of thinking about those kinds of problems.”

Torres grew up in Southern California and was fascinated by dinosaurs as a child. His interest in paleontology and geology continued in high school, when he spent summers hunting fossils and afternoons cleaning dinosaur bones at the Alf Museum of Paleontology on his high school campus. But he also had a growing interest in environmental issues, especially climate change, and he enrolled as an environmental studies major at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.

Rice University geochemist Mark Torres (second from right) on Iceland’s Efri Haukadalsá River in 2019 with Rice graduate students Yi Hou (right) and Trevor Cole ’20 (left) and California Institute of Technology graduate student Preston Kemeny (second from left). (Photo by Trevor Cole)

“For some reason, I thought that despite all my interest in the Earth sciences, that I would do that,” he said. “I got about a semester in, and I was like, ‘Oh, wait. No. Obviously, I want to be a geologist.’ And so, it was like, a really quick switch.”

Torres cited his parents and Alf Museum director Don Lofgren as important early influences, and his Ph.D. advisor at the University of Southern California, Josh West, as a critical late influence. But Torres’ passion for geochemistry emerged in the laboratories of undergraduate mentors Robert Gaines and Jade Star Lackey, both of Pomona College. Torres said Gaines’ research on the geochemistry of Burgess Shale fossils was particularly pivotal.

“It’s a unique type of fossil deposit, and he studies it from the perspective of geochemistry,” Torres said. “Like, what about this place at this time — the seawater — allowed us to have access to these fossils?

“And that little twist on paleontology took,” he said. “In my mind, it was like, ‘Oh. The tools to answer a lot of the questions that interest me — like, what was the Earth like in the past? How will it change in the future? What sets Earth’s climate? — are kind of rooted in chemistry.’ Those questions are fundamentally linked to paleontology, what I thought was originally my passion. But being around (Gaines and Lackey), at that time, really showed me, ‘Oh, no, no. Geochemistry is it.’”

Much of Earth’s nitrogen was locally sourced

MIKE WILLIAMS, Rice News

HOUSTON – (Jan. 21, 2021) – Where did Earth’s nitrogen come from? Rice University scientists show one primordial source of the indispensable building block for life was close to home.

The solar protoplanetary disk was separated into two reservoirs, with the inner solar system material having a lower concentration of nitrogen-15 and the outer solar system material being nitrogen-15 rich. The nitrogen isotope composition of present-day Earth lies in between, according to a new Rice University study that shows it came from both reservoirs. (Credit: Illustration by Amrita P. Vyas)

The solar protoplanetary disk was separated into two reservoirs, with the inner solar system material having a lower concentration of nitrogen-15 and the outer solar system material being nitrogen-15 rich. The nitrogen isotope composition of present-day Earth lies in between, according to a new Rice University study that shows it came from both reservoirs. Illustration by Amrita P. Vyas

The isotopic signatures of nitrogen in iron meteorites reveal that Earth likely gathered its nitrogen not only from the region beyond Jupiter’s orbit but also from the dust in the inner protoplanetary disk.

Nitrogen is a volatile element that, like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, makes life on Earth possible. Knowing its source offers clues to not only how rocky planets formed in the inner part of our solar system but also the dynamics of far-flung protoplanetary disks.

The study by Rice graduate student and lead author Damanveer Grewal, Rice faculty member Rajdeep Dasgupta and geochemist Bernard Marty at the University of Lorraine, France, appears in Nature Astronomy.

Their work helps settle a prolonged debate over the origin of life-essential volatile elements in Earth and other rocky bodies in the solar system.

“Researchers have always thought that the inner part of the solar system, within Jupiter’s orbit, was too hot for nitrogen and other volatile elements to condense as solids, meaning that volatile elements in the inner disk were in the gas phase,” Grewal said.

Because the seeds of present-day rocky planets, also known as protoplanets, grew in the inner disk by accreting locally sourced dust, he said it appeared they did not contain nitrogen or other volatiles, necessitating their delivery from the outer solar system. An earlier study by the team suggested much of this volatile-rich material came to Earth via the collision that formed the moon.

An artist’s conception shows a protoplanetary disk of dust and gas around a young star. New research by Rice University shows that Earth’s nitrogen came from both inner and outer regions of the disk that formed our solar system, contrary to earlier theory. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An artist’s conception shows a protoplanetary disk of dust and gas around a young star. New research by Rice University shows that Earth’s nitrogen came from both inner and outer regions of the disk that formed our solar system, contrary to earlier theory. Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

But new evidence clearly shows only some of the planet’s nitrogen came from beyond Jupiter.

In recent years, scientists have analyzed nonvolatile elements in meteorites, including iron meteorites that occasionally fall to Earth, to show dust in the inner and outer solar system had completely different isotopic compositions.

“This idea of separate reservoirs had only been developed for nonvolatile elements,” Grewal said. “We wanted to see if this is true for volatile elements as well. If so, it can be used to determine which reservoir the volatiles in present-day rocky planets came from.”

Iron meteorites are remnants of the cores of protoplanets that formed at the same time as the seeds of present-day rocky planets, becoming the wild card the authors used to test their hypothesis.

Rice University graduate student and lead author Damanveer Grewal, seated, with faculty member Rajdeep Dasgupta, conducted the study on nitrogen isotope compositions of iron meteorites to show volatile elements deposited on Earth and other rocky planets in the early solar system had more than one source. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Rice University graduate student and lead author Damanveer Grewal, seated, with faculty member Rajdeep Dasgupta, conducted the study on nitrogen isotope compositions of iron meteorites to show volatile elements deposited on Earth and other rocky planets in the early solar system had more than one source. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The researchers found a distinct nitrogen isotopic signature in the dust that bathed the inner protoplanets within about 300,000 years of the formation of the solar system. All iron meteorites from the inner disk contained a lower concentration of the nitrogen-15 isotope, while those from the outer disk were rich in nitrogen-15.

This suggests that within the first few million years, the protoplanetary disk divided into two reservoirs, the outer rich in the nitrogen-15 isotope and the inner rich in nitrogen-14.

“Our work completely changes the current narrative,” Grewal said. “We show that the volatile elements were present in the inner disk dust, probably in the form of refractory organics, from the very beginning. This means that contrary to current understanding, the seeds of the present-day rocky planets — including Earth — were not volatile-free.”

Dasgupta said the finding is significant to those who study the potential habitability of exoplanets, a topic of great interest to him as principal investigator of CLEVER Planets, a NASA-funded collaborative project exploring how life-essential elements might come together on distant exoplanets.

“At least for our own planet, we now know the entire nitrogen budget does not come only from outer solar system materials,” said Dasgupta, Rice’s Maurice Ewing Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences.

“Even if other protoplanetary disks don’t have the kind of giant planet migration resulting in the infiltration of volatile-rich materials from the outer zones, their inner rocky planets closer to the star could still acquire volatiles from their neighboring zones,” he said.

A NASA FINESST grant, a NASA Science Mission Directorate grant to support CLEVER Planets, the European Research Council, and the Lodieska Stockbridge Vaughan Fellowship at Rice supported the research.

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Read the abstract at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-01283-y.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Planetary collision that formed the moon made life possible on Earth: https://news.rice.edu/2019/01/23/planetary-collision-that-formed-the-moon-made-life-possible-on-earth-2/

What recipes produce a habitable planet?: https://news.rice.edu/2018/09/17/what-recipes-produce-a-habitable-planet-2/

Breathing? Thank volcanoes, tectonics and bacteria: https://news.rice.edu/2019/12/02/breathing-thank-volcanoes-tectonics-and-bacteria/

ExPeRT: Experimental Petrology Rice Team (Dasgupta group): https://www.dasgupta.rice.edu/expert/people/dasgupta

CLEVER Planets: http://cleverplanets.org

Rice Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences: https://earthscience.rice.edu

Wiess School of Natural Sciences: https://www.rice.edu

Images for download:

The solar protoplanetary disk was separated into two reservoirs, with the inner solar system material having a lower concentration of nitrogen-15 and the outer solar system material being nitrogen-15 rich. The nitrogen isotope composition of present-day Earth lies in between, according to a new Rice University study that shows it came from both reservoirs. (Credit: Illustration by Amrita P. Vyas)

https://news.rice.edu/files/2020/12/1221_NITROGEN-1a-WEB.jpg

The solar protoplanetary disk was separated into two reservoirs, with the inner solar system material having a lower concentration of nitrogen-15 and the outer solar system material being nitrogen-15 rich. The nitrogen isotope composition of present-day Earth lies in between, according to a new Rice University study that shows it came from both reservoirs. (Credit: Illustration by Amrita P. Vyas)

Rice University graduate student and lead author Damanveer Grewal, seated, with faculty member Rajdeep Dasgupta, conducted the study on nitrogen isotope compositions of iron meteorites to show volatile elements deposited on Earth and other rocky planets in the early solar system had more than one source. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

https://news.rice.edu/files/2020/12/1221_NITROGEN-2-web.jpg

Rice University graduate student and lead author Damanveer Grewal, seated, with faculty member Rajdeep Dasgupta, conducted the study on nitrogen isotope compositions of iron meteorites to show volatile elements deposited on Earth and other rocky planets in the early solar system had more than one source. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

An artist’s conception shows a protoplanetary disk of dust and gas around a young star. New research by Rice University shows that Earth’s nitrogen came from both inner and outer regions of the disk that formed our solar system, contrary to earlier theory. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

 

https://news.rice.edu/files/2020/12/1221_NITROGEN-3-web.jpg

An artist’s conception shows a protoplanetary disk of dust and gas around a young star. New research by Rice University shows that Earth’s nitrogen came from both inner and outer regions of the disk that formed our solar system, contrary to earlier theory. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Rocks show Mars once felt like Iceland

Crater study offers window on temperatures 3.5 billion years ago

HOUSTON – (Jan. 20, 2021) – Once upon a time, seasons in Gale Crater probably felt something like those in Iceland. But nobody was there to bundle up more than 3 billion years ago.

The ancient Martian crater is the focus of a study by Rice University scientists comparing data from the Curiosity rover to places on Earth where similar geologic formations have experienced weathering in different climates.

Iceland’s basaltic terrain and cool weather, with temperatures typically less than 38 degrees Fahrenheit, turned out to be the closest analog to ancient Mars. The study determined that temperature had the biggest impact on how rocks formed from sediment deposited by ancient Martian streams were weathered by climate.

Weathering of sedimentary rock at Gale Crater likely happened under Iceland-like temperatures more than 3 billion years ago, when water still flowed on Mars. Rice University researchers compared data collected by the Curiosity rover, correlated with conditions at various places on Earth, to make their determination. (Credit: NASA)

Weathering of sedimentary rock at Gale Crater likely happened under Iceland-like temperatures more than 3 billion years ago, when water still flowed on Mars. Rice University researchers compared data collected by the Curiosity rover, correlated with conditions at various places on Earth, to make their determination. Courtesy of NASA

The study by postdoctoral alumnus Michael Thorpe and Martian geologist Kirsten Siebach of Rice and geoscientist Joel Hurowitz of State University of New York at Stony Brook set out to answer questions about the forces that affected sands and mud in the ancient lakebed.

Data collected by Curiosity during its travels since landing on Mars in 2012 provide details about the chemical and physical states of mudstones formed in an ancient lake, but the chemistry does not directly reveal the climate conditions when the sediment eroded upstream. For that, the researchers had to look for similar rocks and soils on Earth to find a correlation between the planets.

The study published in JGR Planets takes data from well-known and varying conditions in Iceland, Idaho and around the world to see which provided the best match for what the rover sees and senses in the crater that encompasses Mount Sharp.

The crater once contained a lake, but the climate that allowed water to fill it is the subject of a long debate. Some argue that early Mars was warm and wet, and that rivers and lakes were commonly present. Others think it was cold and dry and that glaciers and snow were more common.

A river-fed sedimentary plain in Iceland bears resemblance to what might have fed Mars’ Gale Crater more than 3 billion years ago. Researchers at Rice University studied rover data on sedimentary rocks at the crater and compared them to similar formations on Earth to determine what the climate might have been like at the crater when the sediments were deposited. (Credit: Photo by Michael Thorpe)

A river-fed sedimentary plain in Iceland bears resemblance to what might have fed Mars’ Gale Crater more than 3 billion years ago. Researchers at Rice University studied rover data on sedimentary rocks at the crater and compared them to similar formations on Earth to determine what the climate might have been like at the crater when the sediments were deposited. Photo by Michael Thorpe

“Sedimentary rocks in Gale Crater instead detail a climate that likely falls in between these two scenarios,” said Thorpe, now a Mars sample return scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center contractor Jacobs Space Exploration Group. “The ancient climate was likely frigid but also appears to have supported liquid water in lakes for extended periods of time.”

The researchers were surprised that there was so little weathering of rocks on Mars after more than 3 billion years, such that the ancient Mars rocks were comparable to Icelandic sediments in a river and lake today.

“On Earth, the sedimentary rock record does a fantastic job of maturing over time with the help of chemical weathering,” Thorpe noted. “However, on Mars we see very young minerals in the mudstones that are older than any sedimentary rocks on Earth, suggesting weathering was limited.”

The researchers directly studied sediments from Idaho and Iceland, and compiled studies of similar basaltic sediments from a range of climates around the world, from Antarctica to Hawaii, to bracket the climate conditions they thought were possible on Mars when water was flowing into Gale Crater.

“Earth provided an excellent laboratory for us in this study, where we could use a range of locations to see the effects of different climate variables on weathering, and average annual temperature had the strongest effect for the types of rocks in Gale Crater,” said Siebach, a member of the Curiosity team who will be a Perseverance operator after the new lander touches down in February. “The range of climates on Earth allowed us to calibrate our thermometer for measuring the temperature on ancient Mars.”

Michael Thorpe

Michael Thorpe

Kirsten Siebach

Kirsten Siebach

The makeup of sand and mud in Iceland were the closest match to Mars based on analysis via the standard chemical index of alteration (CIA), a basic geological tool used to infer past climate from chemical and physical weathering of a sample.

“As water flows through rocks to erode and weather them, it dissolves the most soluble chemical components of the minerals that form the rocks,” Siebach said. “On Mars, we saw that only a small fraction of the elements that dissolve the fastest had been lost from the mud relative to volcanic rocks, even though the mud has the smallest grain size and is usually the most weathered.

“This really limits the average annual temperature on Mars when the lake was present, because if it were warmer, then more of those elements would have been flushed away,” she said.

The results also indicated the climate shifted over time from Antarctic-like conditions to become more Icelandic while fluvial processes continued to deposit sediments in the crater. This shift shows the technique can be used to help track climate changes on ancient Mars.

While the study focused on the lowest, most ancient part of the lake sediments Curiosity has explored, other studies have also indicated the Martian climate probably fluctuated and became drier with time. “This study establishes one way to interpret that trend more quantitatively, by comparison to climates and environments we know well on Earth today,” Siebach said. “Similar techniques could be used by Perseverance to understand ancient climate around its landing site at Jezero Crater.”

In parallel, climate change, especially in Iceland, may shift the places on Earth best-suited for understanding the past on both planets, she said.

Siebach is an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Rice. Hurowitz is an associate professor of geosciences at Stony Brook.

A NASA postdoctoral fellowship to Thorpe, the NASA Solar System Workings program and the David E. King Field Work Award from Stony Brook supported the research.

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Read the abstract at https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2020JE006530.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related materials:

Siebach Lab: https://kirstensiebach.com/lab

Michael Thorpe: https://mikethorpe.weebly.com/

Joel Hurowitz: https://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/geosciences/people/_faculty/hurowitz.php

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity: https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/home/

Mars 2020: Perseverance: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences: https://earthscience.rice.edu

Wiess School of Natural Sciences: https://naturalsciences.rice.edu

Images for download:

Weathering of sedimentary rock at Gale Crater likely happened under Iceland-like temperatures more than 3 billion years ago, when water still flowed on Mars. Rice University researchers compared data collected by the Curiosity rover, correlated with conditions at various places on Earth, to make their determination. (Credit: NASA)

https://news.rice.edu/files/2021/01/0125_GALE-1-WEB-1.jpg

Weathering of sedimentary rock at Gale Crater likely happened under Iceland-like temperatures more than 3 billion years ago, when water still flowed on Mars. Rice University researchers compared data collected by the Curiosity rover, correlated with conditions at various places on Earth, to make their determination. (Credit: NASA)

A river-fed sedimentary plain in Iceland bears resemblance to what might have fed Mars’ Gale Crater more than 3 billion years ago. Researchers at Rice University studied rover data on sedimentary rocks at the crater and compared them to similar formations on Earth to determine what the climate might have been like at the crater when the sediments were deposited. (Credit: Photo by Michael Thorpe)

https://news.rice.edu/files/2021/01/0125_GALE-2-WEB.jpg

A river-fed sedimentary plain in Iceland bears resemblance to what might have fed Mars’ Gale Crater more than 3 billion years ago. Researchers at Rice University studied rover data on sedimentary rocks at the crater and compared them to similar formations on Earth to determine what the climate might have been like at the crater when the sediments were deposited. (Credit: Photo by Michael Thorpe)

Michael Thorpe

https://news.rice.edu/files/2021/01/0125_GALE-3-WEB.jpg

CAPTION: Michael Thorpe. (Credit: Wiess School of Natural Sciences/Rice University)

Kirsten Siebach

https://news.rice.edu/files/2021/01/0125_GALE-4-WEB.jpg

CAPTION: Kirsten Siebach. (Credit: Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,978 undergraduates and 3,192 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 1 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Research finds tiny bubbles tell tales of big volcanic eruptions

 

Study: Nanocrystals may explain staggering number of bubbles in erupted lava

HOUSTON – (Jan. 19, 2021) – Microscopic bubbles can tell stories about Earth’s biggest volcanic eruptions and geoscientists from Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin have discovered some of those stories are written in nanoparticles.

In an open-access study published online in Nature Communications, Rice’s Sahand Hajimirza and Helge Gonnermann and UT Austin’s James Gardner answered a longstanding question about explosive volcanic eruptions like the ones at Mount St. Helens in 1980, the Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo in 1991 or Chile’s Mount Chaitén in 2008.

aerial view of plume from Mount St. Helens, Washington, May 18, 1980.

An aerial view from the southwest of Mount St. Helens, Washington, May 18, 1980. The Plinian eruption was the deadliest and most costly volcanic disaster in U.S. history. (Photo by Krimmel, Robert. Public domain.)

Geoscientists have long sought to use tiny bubbles in erupted lava and ash to reconstruct some of the conditions, like heat and pressure, that occur in these powerful eruptions. But there’s been a historic disconnect between numerical models that predict how many bubbles will form and the actual amounts of bubbles measured in erupted rocks.

Hajimirza, Gonnermann and Gardner worked for more than five years to reconcile those differences for Plinian eruptions. Named in honor of Pliny the Younger, the Roman author who described the eruption that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79, Plinian eruptions are some of the most intense and destructive volcanic events.

“Eruption intensity refers to the both the amount of magma that’s erupted and how quickly it comes out,” said Hajimirza, a postdoctoral researcher and former Ph.D. student in Gonnermann’s lab at Rice’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. “The typical intensity of Plinian eruptions ranges from about 10 million kilograms per second to 10 billion kilograms per second. That is equivalent to 5,000 to 5 million pickup trucks per second.”

One way scientists can gauge the speed of rising magma is by studying microscopic bubbles in erupted lava and ash. Like bubbles in uncorked champagne, magma bubbles are created by a rapid decrease in pressure. In magma, this causes dissolved water to escape in the form of gas bubbles.

“As magma rises, its pressure decreases,” Hajimirza said. “At some point, it reaches a pressure at which water is saturated, and further decompression causes supersaturation and the formation of bubbles.”

As water escapes in the form of bubbles, the molten rock becomes less saturated. But if the magma continues to rise, decreasing pressure increases saturation.

“This feedback determines how many bubbles form,” Hajimirza said. “The faster the magma rises, the higher the decompression rate and supersaturation pressure, and the more abundant the nucleated bubbles.”

In Plinian eruptions, so much magma rises so fast that the number of bubbles is staggering. When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, for example, it spewed more than one cubic kilometer of rock and ash in nine hours, and there were about one million billion bubbles in each cubic meter of that erupted material.

Sahand Hajimirza

Sahand Hajimirza is a postdoctoral research associate in Rice University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. (Photo courtesy of S. Hajimirza/Rice University)

“The total bubbles would be around a septillion,” Hajimirza said. “That’s a one followed by 24 zeros, or about 1,000 times more than all the grains of sand on all Earth’s beaches.”

In his Ph.D. studies, Hajimirza developed a predictive model for bubble formation and worked with Gardner to test the model in experiments at UT Austin. The new study builds upon that work by examining how magnetite crystals no larger than a few billionths of a meter could change how bubbles form at various depths.

“When bubbles nucleate, they can form in liquid, which we call homogeneous nucleation, or they can nucleate on a solid surface, which we call heterogeneous,” Hajimirza said. “A daily life example would be boiling a pot of water. When bubbles form on the bottom of the pot, rather than in the liquid water, that is heterogeneous nucleation.”

Bubbles from the bottom of the pot are often the first to form, because heterogeneous and homogeneous nucleation typically begin at different temperatures. In rising magma, heterogeneous bubble formation begins earlier, at lower supersaturation levels. And the surfaces where bubbles nucleate are often on tiny crystals.

“How much they facilitate nucleation depends on the type of crystals,” Hajimirza said. “Magnetites, in particular, are the most effective.”

In the study, Hajimirza, Gonnermann and Gardner incorporated magnetite-mediated nucleation in numerical models of bubble formation and found the models produced results that agreed with observational data from Plinian eruptions.

A NASA satellite image of a volcanic plume from Chile's Mount Chaitén rising over the Andes Mountains and drifting across Argentina on this May 3, 2008.

A volcanic plume flows southeast from Chile’s Mount Chaitén in this May 3, 2008 image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The Plinian plume rose over the Andes Mountains and drifted across Argentina before dissipating over the Atlantic Ocean. (Image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Rapid Response Team/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Hajimirza said magnetites are likely present in all Plinian magma. And while previous research on hasn’t revealed enough magnetites to account for all observed bubbles, previous studies may have missed small nanocrystals that would only be revealed with transmission electron microscopy, a rarely used technique that is only now becoming more broadly available.

To find out if that’s the case, Hajimirza, Gonnermann and Gardner called for a “systematic search for magnetite nanolites” in material from Plinian eruptions. That would provide observational data to better define the role of magnetites and heterogeneous nucleation in bubble formation, and could lead to better models and improved volcanic forecasts.

“Forecasting eruptions is a long-term goal for volcanologists, but it’s challenging because we cannot directly observe subsurface processes,” said Hajimirza. “One of the grand challenges of volcano science, as outlined by the National Academies in 2017, is improving eruption forecasting by better integration of the observational data we have with the quantitative models, like the one we developed for this study.”

Gonnermann is a professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Rice. Gardner is a professor of geological sciences in UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (EAR-1348072, EAR-1348050).

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Links and resources:

The DOI of the Nature Communications paper is: 10.1038/s41467-020-20541-1

A copy of the paper is available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-20541-1

High-resolution IMAGES are available for download at:

https://news.rice.edu/files/2021/01/0113_BUBBLES-smH-b.jpg
CAPTION: Sahand Hajimirza is a postdoctoral research associate in Rice University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. (Photo courtesy of S. Hajimirza/Rice University)

https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/plinian-eruption-column-may-18-1980-mount-st-helens
CAPTION: An aerial view from the southwest of Mount St. Helens, Washington, May 18, 1980. The Plinian eruption was the deadliest and most costly volcanic disaster in U.S. history. (Photo by Krimmel, Robert. Public domain.)

https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/19887/chaiten-volcano-erupts
CAPTION: A volcanic plume flows southeast from Chile’s Mount Chaitén in this May 3, 2008 image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The Plinian plume rose over the Andes Mountains and drifted across Argentina before dissipating over the Atlantic Ocean. (Image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Rapid Response Team/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)