Carbon and sulfur budget of the silicate Earth explained by accretion of differentiated planetary embryos

Li, Y., Dasgupta, R., Tsuno, K., Montelone, B. & Shimizu, N. (2016). Carbon and sulfur budget of the silicate Earth explained by accretion of differentiated planetary embryos. Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2801


The abundances of volatile elements in the Earth’s mantle have been attributed to the delivery of volatile-rich material after the main phase of accretion. However, no known meteorites could deliver the volatile elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur, at the relative abundances observed for the silicate Earth. Alternatively, Earth could have acquired its volatile inventory during accretion and differentiation, but the fate of volatile elements during core formation is known only for a limited set of conditions. In this study we present constraints from laboratory experiments on the partitioning of carbon and sulfur between metallic cores and silicate mantles under conditions relevant for rocky planetary bodies. We find that carbon remains more siderophile than sulfur over a range of oxygen fugacities; however, our experiments suggest that in reduced or sulfur-rich bodies, carbon is expelled from the segregating core. Combined with previous constraints, we propose that the ratio of carbon to sulfur in the silicate Earth could have been established by differentiation of a planetary embryo that was then accreted to the proto-Earth. We suggest that the accretion of a Mercury-like (reduced) or a sulfur-rich (oxidized) differentiated body—in which carbon has been preferentially partitioned into the mantle—may explain the Earth’s carbon and sulfur budgets.

Effects of water, depth and temperature on partial melting of mantle-wedge fluxed by hydrous sediment-melt in subduction zones

Ananya Mallik, Rajdeep Dasgupta, Kyusei Tsuno, Jared Nelson


Mallik, A., Dasgupta, R., Tsuno, K., Nelson, J. (2016). Effects of water, depth and temperature on partial melting of mantle wedge fluxed by hydrous sediment melt in subduction zones. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. doi:10.1016/j.gca.2016.08.018


Abstract: This study investigates the partial melting of variable bulk H2O-bearing parcels of mantle-wedge hybridized by partial melt derived from subducted metapelites, at pressure-temperature (P-T) conditions applicable to hotter core of the mantle beneath volcanic arcs. Experiments are performed on mixtures of 25% sediment-melt with 75% fertile peridotite, from 1200-1300 °C, at 2 and 3 GPa, with bulk H2O concentrations of 4 and 6 wt.%. Combining the results from these experiments with previous experiments containing 2 wt.% bulk H2O (Mallik et al., 2015), it is observed that all melt compositions, except those produced in the lowest bulk H2O experiments at 3 GPa, are saturated with olivine and orthopyroxene. Also, higher bulk H2O concentration increases melt fraction at the same P-T condition, and causes exhaustion of garnet, phlogopite and clinopyroxene at lower temperatures, for a given pressure. The activity coefficient of silica (ϒSiO2) for olivine-orthopyroxene saturated melt compositions (where the activity of silica, aSiO2, is buffered by the reaction olivine + SiO2 = orthopyroxene) from this study and from mantle melting studies in the literature are calculated. In melt compositions generated at 2 GPa or shallower, with increasing H2O concentration, ϒSiO2 increases from <1 to ~1, indicating a transition from non-ideal mixing as OH in the melt (ϒSiO2 <1) to ideal mixing as molecular H2O (ϒSiO2 ~1). At pressures >2 GPa, ϒSiO2 >1 at higher H2O concentrations in the melt, indicate requirement of excess energy to incorporate molecular H2O in the silicate melt structure, along with a preference for bridging species and polyhedral edge decorations. With vapor saturation in the presence of melt, ϒSiO2 decreases indicating approach towards ideal mixing of H2O in silicate melt. For similar H2O concentrations in the melt, ϒSiO2 for olivine-orthopyroxene saturated melts at 3 GPa is higher than melts at 2 GPa or shallower. This results in melts generated at 3 GPa being more silica-poor than melts at 2 GPa. Thus, variable bulk H2O and pressure of melt generation results in the partial melts from this study varying in composition from phonotephrite to basaltic andesite at 2 GPa and foidite/phonotephrite to basalt at 3 GPa, thus forming a spectrum of arc lavas. Modeling suggests that the trace element patterns of sediment-melt are unaffected by the process of hybridization within the hotter core of the mantle-wedge. K2O/H2O and H2O/Ce ratios of the sediment-melts are unaffected, within error, by the process of hybridization of the mantle-wedge. This implies that thermometers based on K2O/H2O and H2O/Ce ratios of arc lavas may be used to estimate slab-top temperatures when a) sediment-melt from the slab reaches the hotter core of the mantle-wedge by focused flow b) sediment-melt freezes in the overlying mantle at the slab-mantle interface and the hybridized package rises as a mélange diapir and partially melts at the hotter core of the mantle-wedge. Based on the results from this study and previous studies, both channelized and porous flow of sediment-melt/fluid through the sub-arc mantle can explain geochemical signatures of arc lavas under specific geodynamic scenarios of fluid/melt fluxing, hybridization, and subsequent mantle melting.

Charcoal Disrupts Soil Microbial Communication Through a Combination of Signal Sorption and Hydrolysis

Charcoal Disrupts Soil Microbial Communication Through a Combination of Signal Sorption and Hydrolysis


The presence of charcoal in soil triggers a range of biological effects that are not yet predictable, in part because it interferes with the functioning of chemical signals that microbes release into their environment to communicate. We do not fully understand the mechanisms by which charcoal alters the biologically available concentrations of these intercellular signals. Recently, charcoal has been shown to sorb the signaling molecules that microbes release, rendering them ineffective for intercellular communication. Here, we investigate a second, potentially more important mechanism of interference: signaling-molecule hydrolysis driven by charcoal-induced soil pH changes. We examined the effects of 10 charcoals on the bioavailable concentration of an acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL) used by many Gram-negative bacteria for cell–cell communication. We show that charcoals decrease the level of bioavailable AHL through sorption and pH-dependent hydrolysis of the lactone ring. We then built a quantitative model that predicts the half-lives of different microbial signaling compounds in the presence of charcoals varying in pH and surface area. Our model results suggest that the chemical effects of charcoal on pH-sensitive bacterial AHL signals will be fundamentally distinct from effects on pH-insensitive fungal signals, potentially leading to shifts in microbial community structures.

New methods to track microbes’ behavior in the environment

Volatile Gas Production by Methyl Halide Transferase: An In-situ Reporter of Gene Expression in Soil


Traditional visual reporters of gene expression have only very limited use in soils because their outputs are challenging to detect through the soil matrix. This severely restricts our ability to study time-dependent microbial gene expression in one of the Earth’s largest, most complex habitats. Here we describe an approach to report on dynamic gene expression within a microbial population in a soil under natural water levels (at and below water holding capacity) via production of methyl halides using a methyl halide transferase. As a proof-of-concept application, we couple the expression of this gas reporter to the conjugative transfer of a bacterial plasmid in a soil matrix and show that gas released from the matrix displays a strong correlation with the number of transconjugant bacteria that formed. Gas reporting of gene expression will make possible dynamic studies of natural and engineered microbes within many hard-to-image environmental matrices (soils, sediments, sludge, and biomass) at sample scales exceeding those used for traditional visual reporting.

A compressive sensing approach to the high-resolution linear Radon transform: Application on teleseismic wavefields

Mehdi Aharchaou and Alan Levander

Aharchaou, M., and A. Levander, 2016, A compressive sensing approach to the high-resolution linear Radon transform: Application on teleseismic wavefields, Geophysical Journal International, Express Letter, doi: 10.1093/gji/ggw307

Abstract:  We propose a new approach to the linear Radon transform (LRT) based on compressive sensing (CS) theory. This method can be used to extract signals of interest embedded in teleseismic measurements recorded by regional seismic arrays. We pose the problem of enhancing the resolution of the LRT as an inverse problem formulated in the frequency domain and solved according to a CS framework. We show how irregularity in the measurements along with sparsity constraints can be used to reach very compact and meaningful representations in the Radon domain, offering a benefit for both signal isolation and spatial interpolation during data reconstruction. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach and its benefits on both synthetic and USArray seismograms. This CS-based version of the LRT presents a valuable tool relevant for both global and exploration seismic processing, and which can be used as a basis for signal enhancement techniques exploiting irregularly sampled data.


Paper can be found here

QSR: Marine record of Holocene climate, ocean, and cryosphere interactions: Herbert Sound, James Ross Island, Antarctica

Marine record of Holocene climate, ocean, and cryosphere interactions: Herbert Sound, James Ross Island, Antarctica

Rebecca Totten Minzoni, John B. Anderson, Rodrigo Fernandez, Julia Smith Wellner
Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 129, 1 December 2015, Pages 239–259
The sediment record offshore James Ross Island, northeast Antarctic Peninsula presents an unparalleled opportunity to directly compare marine and terrestrial climate records spanning the Holocene in maritime Antarctica. An 11 m drill core was collected between Herbert Sound and Croft Bay as part of the SHALDRIL NBP-0502 initiative and produced the southernmost sediment record from the eastern side of the AP. Thirty-eight radiocarbon ages are used to construct an age model of centennial-scale resolution. Multi-proxy records, including magnetic susceptibility, pebble content, particle size, total organic carbon, and diatom assemblages, were interrogated in the context of nearby Holocene-age ice core, lake, and drift records from James Ross Island. Differences in the timing and expression of Holocene events reflect marine controls on tidewater glaciers, such as water mass configurations and sea ice. Glacial behavior mimics ice core paleotemperatures during the Holocene, with the exception of distinct ocean warming events. Herbert Sound was fully occupied by grounded ice during the Last Glacial Maximum, and experienced rapid lift-off, followed by a floating ice phase. The canopy of floating ice receded by 10 ± 2.4 cal kyr BP, presumably in response to Early Holocene warming. Herbert Sound and Croft Bay fully deglaciated by 7.2 cal kyr BP, when the Mid Holocene Hypsithermal commenced and the sound became open and productive. An extreme peak in productivity ∼6.1 cal kyr BP indicates an oceanic warming event that is not reflected in atmospheric temperature or lacustrine sediment records. Increase in sea ice cover and ice rafting mark the onset of the Neoglacial ∼2.5 cal kyr BP, when pronounced atmospheric cooling is documented in the James Ross Island ice core. Our comparison facilitates more holistic understanding of atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere interactions that may aid predictions of glacial response to future warming and sea-level scenarios.

Past ice-sheet behaviour: retreat scenarios and changing controls in the Ross Sea, Antarctica

Past ice-sheet behaviour: retreat scenarios and changing controls in the Ross Sea, Antarctica

Anna Ruth W. Halberstadt, Lauren M. Simkins, Sarah L. Greenwood, and John B. Anderson

Past ice-sheet behaviour: retreat scenarios and changing controls in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, The Cryosphere, 10, 1003-1020, doi:10.5194/tc-10-1003-2016, 2016.

Studying the history of ice-sheet behaviour in the Ross Sea, Antarctica’s largest drainage basin can improve our understanding of patterns and controls on marine-based ice-sheet dynamics and provide constraints for numerical ice-sheet models. Newly collected high-resolution multibeam bathymetry data, combined with two decades of legacy multibeam and seismic data, are used to map glacial landforms and reconstruct palaeo ice-sheet drainage.

During the Last Glacial Maximum, grounded ice reached the continental shelf edge in the eastern but not western Ross Sea. Recessional geomorphic features in the western Ross Sea indicate virtually continuous back-stepping of the ice-sheet grounding line. In the eastern Ross Sea, well-preserved linear features and a lack of small-scale recessional landforms signify rapid lift-off of grounded ice from the bed. Physiography exerted a first-order control on regional ice behaviour, while sea floor geology played an important subsidiary role.

Previously published deglacial scenarios for Ross Sea are based on low-spatial-resolution marine data or terrestrial observations; however, this study uses high-resolution basin-wide geomorphology to constrain grounding-line retreat on the continental shelf. Our analysis of retreat patterns suggests that (1) retreat from the western Ross Sea was complex due to strong physiographic controls on ice-sheet drainage; (2) retreat was asynchronous across the Ross Sea and between troughs; (3) the eastern Ross Sea largely deglaciated prior to the western Ross Sea following the formation of a large grounding-line embayment over Whales Deep; and (4) our glacial geomorphic reconstruction converges with recent numerical models that call for significant and complex East Antarctic ice sheet and West Antarctic ice sheet contributions to the ice flow in the Ross Sea.

Rice University scientists propose that life in the solar system could have been very different


The Solar System of Forking Paths: Bifurcations in Planetary Evolution and the Search for Life-Bearing Planets in Our Galaxy

Lenardic A., Crowley J.W., Jellinek A.M., and Weller M.. Astrobiology. June 2016, 16(7): 551-559. doi:10.1089/ast.2015.1378.

—From Rice News…

Rice University scientists propose that life in the solar system could have been very different
If conditions had been just a little different an eon ago, there might be plentiful life on Venus and none on Earth.

The idea isn’t so far-fetched, according to a hypothesis by Rice University scientists and their colleagues who published their thoughts on life-sustaining planets, the planets’ histories and the possibility of finding more in Astrobiology this month.

The researchers maintain that minor evolutionary changes could have altered the fates of both Earth and Venus in ways that scientists may soon be able to model through observation of other solar systems, particularly ones in the process of forming, according to Rice Earth scientist Adrian Lenardic.

The paper, he said, includes “a little bit about the philosophy of science as well as the science itself, and about how we might search in the future. It’s a bit of a different spin because we haven’t actually ­­­­done the work, in terms of searching for signs of life outside our solar system, yet. It’s about how we go about doing the work.”

Lenardic and his colleagues suggested that habitable planets may lie outside the “Goldilocks zone” in extra-solar systems, and that planets farther from or closer to their suns than Earth may harbor the conditions necessary for life.

Read more here


EPSL: Critical porosity of melt segregation during crustal melting: Constraints from zonation of peritectic garnets in a dacite volcano

Critical porosity of melt segregation during crustal melting: Constraints from zonation of peritectic garnets in a dacite volcano

Xun Yu* and Cin-Ty Lee

*visiting student

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Volume 449, 1 September 2016, Pages 127–134


The presence of leucogranitic dikes in orogenic belts suggests that partial melting may be an important process in the lower crust of active orogenies. Low seismic velocity and low electrical resistivity zones have been observed in the lower crust of active mountain belts and have been argued to reflect the presence of partial melt in the deep crust, but volcanoes are rare or absent above many of these inferred melt zones. Understanding whether these low velocity zones are melt-bearing, and if so, why they do not commonly erupt, is essential for understanding the thermal and rheologic structure of the crust and its dynamic evolution. Central to this problem is an understanding of how much melt can be stored before it can escape from the crust via compaction and eventually erupt. Experimental and theoretical studies predict trapped melt fractions anywhere from <5% to >30%. Here, we examine Mn growth-zoning in peritectic garnets in a Miocene dacite volcano from the ongoing Betic–Rif orogeny in southern Spain to estimate the melt fraction at the time of large-scale melt extraction that subsequently led to eruption. We show that the melt fraction at segregation, corresponding approximately to the critical melt porosity, was ∼30%, implying significant amounts of melt can be stored in the lower crust without draining or erupting. However, seismic velocities in the lower crust beneath active orogenic belts (southern Spain and Tibet) as well as beneath active magmatic zones (e.g., Yellowstone hotspot) correspond to average melt porosities of <10%, suggesting that melt porosities approaching critical values are short-lived or that high melt porosity regions are localized into heterogeneously distributed sills or dikes, which individually cannot be resolved by seismic studies.


GSAB: Controls on gravel termination in seven distributary channels of the Selenga River Delta, Baikal Rift basin, Russia

Controls on gravel termination in seven distributary channels of the Selenga River Delta, Baikal Rift basin, Russia

The Geological Society of America Bulletin (2016) doi:10.1130/B31427.1

T. Y. Dong, J. A. Nittrouer, E. Il’icheva, M. Pavlov, B. McElroy, M. J. Czapiga, H. Ma, G. Parker

The Selenga River Delta, Lake Baikal, Russia, is ∼600 km2 in size and contains multiple distributary channels that receive varying amounts of water and sediment discharge. The delta is positioned along the deep-water (∼1600 m) margin of Lake Baikal, a half-graben−styled rift basin, qualifying it as a modern analogue of a shelf-edge delta system. This study provides a detailed field survey of channel bed sediment composition, channel geometry, and water discharge. The data and analyses presented here indicate that the Selenga Delta exhibits downstream sediment fining over tens of kilometers, ranging from predominantly gravel (coarse pebble) and sand near its apex to silt and sand at the delta-lake interface. We developed an analytical framework to evaluate the downstream elimination of gravel within the multiple distributary channels. The findings include the following. (1) The Selenga River Delta consists of at least eight orders of distributary channels. (2) With increasing channel order downstream, channel cross-sectional area, width-depth ratio, water discharge, boundary shear stress, and sediment flux systematically decrease. (3) The downstream elimination of gravel in distributary channels is caused by declining boundary shear stress as a result of water discharge partitioning among the bifurcating channels. (4) Over longer time scales, gravel is contained on the delta topset due to frequent and discrete seismic events that produce subsidence and accommodation, so that coarse sediment cannot be transported to the axis of the Baikal Rift basin. The distribution of sediment grain size in deltaic channels, as related to hydrodynamics and sediment transport, plays a critical role in influencing stratigraphy, because the sustained tectonism leads to high preservation potential of the delta topset sedimentary deposits. Therefore, the Selenga River Delta provides an opportunity to explore the interactions between modern deltaic sedimentation processes and tectonics that affect the production of basin stratigraphy.