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Concept: Petrology


Magnetic studies of lunar rocks indicate that the Moon generated a core dynamo with surface field intensities of ~20 to 110 μT between at least 4.25 and 3.56 billion years ago (Ga). The field subsequently declined to <~4 μT by 3.19 Ga, but it has been unclear whether the dynamo had terminated by this time or just greatly weakened in intensity. We present analyses that demonstrate that the melt glass matrix of a young regolith breccia was magnetized in a ~5 ± 2 μT dynamo field at ~1 to ~2.5 Ga. These data extend the known lifetime of the lunar dynamo by at least 1 billion years. Such a protracted history requires an extraordinarily long-lived power source like core crystallization or precession. No single dynamo mechanism proposed thus far can explain the strong fields inferred for the period before 3.56 Ga while also allowing the dynamo to persist in such a weakened state beyond ~2.5 Ga. Therefore, our results suggest that the dynamo was powered by at least two distinct mechanisms operating during early and late lunar history.

Concepts: Time, Magnetic field, Earth, Moon, Magnetism, Logic, Field, Petrology


Sea urchins are dominant members of rocky temperate reefs around the world. They often occur in cavities within the rock, and fit so tightly, it is natural to assume they sculpted these “pits.” However, there are no experimental data demonstrating they bore pits. If they do, what are the rates and consequences of bioerosion to nearshore systems? We sampled purple sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, from sites with four rock types, three sedimentary (two sandstones and one mudstone) and one metamorphic (granite). A year-long experiment showed urchins excavated depressions on sedimentary rocks in just months. The rate of pit formation varied with rock type and ranged from <5 yr for medium-grain sandstone to >100 yr for granite. In the field, there were differences in pit size and shapes of the urchins (height:diameter ratio). The pits were shallow and urchins flatter at the granite site, and the pits were deeper and urchins taller at the sedimentary sites. Although overall pit sizes were larger on mudstone than on sandstone, urchin size accounted for this difference. A second, short-term experiment, showed the primary mechanism for bioerosion was ingestion of the substratum. This experiment eliminated potential confounding factors of the year-long experiment and yielded higher bioerosion rates. Given the high densities of urchins, large amounts of rock can be converted to sediment over short time periods. Urchins on sandstone can excavate as much as 11.4 kg m-2 yr-1. On a broader geographic scale, sediment production can exceed 100 t ha-1 yr-1, and across their range, their combined bioerosion is comparable to the sediment load of many rivers. The phase shift between urchin barrens and kelp bed habitats in the North Pacific is controlled by the trophic cascade of sea otters. By limiting urchin populations, these apex predators also may indirectly control a substantial component of coastal rates of bioerosion.

Concepts: Sediment, Sedimentary rock, Igneous rock, Rock, Petrology, Sea urchin, Metamorphic rock, Shale


The end-Triassic extinction is one of the Phanerozoic’s largest mass extinctions. This extinction is typically attributed to climate change associated with degassing of basalt flows from the central Atlantic magmatic province (CAMP). However, recent work suggests that the earliest known CAMP basalts occur above the extinction horizon and that climatic and biotic changes began before the earliest known CAMP eruptions. Here we present new high-precision U-Pb ages from CAMP mafic intrusive units, showing that magmatic activity was occurring ∼100 Kyr ago before the earliest known eruptions. We correlate the early magmatic activity with the onset of changes to the climatic and biotic records. We also report ages from sills in an organic rich sedimentary basin in Brazil that intrude synchronously with the extinction suggesting that degassing of these organics contributed to the climate change which drove the extinction. Our results indicate that the intrusive record from large igneous provinces may be more important for linking to mass extinctions than the eruptive record.

Concepts: Earth, Igneous rock, Extinction, Petrology, Magma, Basalt, Dinosaur, Extinction event


Quartz is a common phase in high-silica igneous rocks and is resistant to post-eruptive alteration, thus offering a reliable record of magmatic processes in silicic magma systems. Here we employ the 75 ka Toba super-eruption as a case study to show that quartz can resolve late-stage temporal changes in magmatic δ(18)O values. Overall, Toba quartz crystals exhibit comparatively high δ(18)O values, up to 10.2‰, due to magma residence within, and assimilation of, local granite basement. However, some 40% of the analysed quartz crystals display a decrease in δ(18)O values in outermost growth zones compared to their cores, with values as low as 6.7‰ (maximum ∆core-rim = 1.8‰). These lower values are consistent with the limited zircon record available for Toba, and the crystallisation history of Toba quartz traces an influx of a low-δ(18)O component into the magma reservoir just prior to eruption. Here we argue that this late-stage low-δ(18)O component is derived from hydrothermally-altered roof material. Our study demonstrates that quartz isotope stratigraphy can resolve magmatic events that may remain undetected by whole-rock or zircon isotope studies, and that assimilation of altered roof material may represent a viable eruption trigger in large Toba-style magmatic systems.

Concepts: Igneous rock, Rock, Quartz, Petrology, Magma, Basalt, Granite, Pegmatite


Precise dating of diamond growth is required to understand the interior workings of the early Earth and the deep carbon cycle. Here we report Sm-Nd isotope data from 26 individual garnet inclusions from 26 harzburgitic diamonds from Venetia, South Africa. Garnet inclusions and host diamonds comprise two compositional suites formed under markedly different conditions and define two isochrons, one Archaean (2.95 Ga) and one Proterozoic (1.15 Ga). The Archaean diamond suite formed from relatively cool fluid-dominated metasomatism during rifting of the southern shelf of the Zimbabwe Craton. The 1.8 billion years younger Proterozoic diamond suite formed by melt-dominated metasomatism related to the 1.1 Ga Umkondo Large Igneous Province. The results demonstrate that resolving the time of diamond growth events requires dating of individual inclusions, and that there was a major change in the magmatic processes responsible for harzburgitic diamond formation beneath Venetia from the Archaean to the Proterozoic.Dating of inclusions within diamonds is used to reconstruct Earth’s geodynamic history. Here, the authors report isotope data on individual garnet inclusions within diamonds from Venetia, South Africa, showing that two suites of diamonds define two isochrons, showing the importance of dating individual inclusions.

Concepts: Igneous rock, Carbon, Diamond, Petrology, Magma, Granite, Archean, Kimberlite


Carbonate concretions occur in sedimentary rocks of widely varying geological ages throughout the world. Many of these concretions are isolated spheres, centered on fossils. The formation of such concretions has been variously explained by diffusion of inorganic carbon and organic matter in buried marine sediments. However, details of the syn-depositional chemical processes by which the isolated spherical shape developed and the associated carbon sources are little known. Here we present evidence that spherical carbonate concretions (diameters φ : 14 ~ 37 mm) around tusk-shells (Fissidentalium spp.) were formed within weeks or months following death of the organism by the seepage of fatty acid from decaying soft body tissues. Characteristic concentrations of carbonate around the mouth of a tusk-shell reveal very rapid formation during the decay of organic matter from the tusk-shell. Available observations and geochemical evidence have enabled us to construct a ‘Diffusion-growth rate cross-plot’ that can be used to estimate the growth rate of all kinds of isolated spherical carbonate concretions identified in marine formations. Results shown here suggest that isolated spherical concretions that are not associated with fossils might also be formed from carbon sourced in the decaying soft body tissues of non-skeletal organisms with otherwise low preservation potential.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Sediment, Chemistry, Sedimentary rock, Carbon, Petrology, Fossil, Calcite


Sedimentary rocks examined by the Curiosity rover at Yellowknife Bay, Mars, were derived from sources that evolved from approximately average Martian crustal composition to one influenced by alkaline basalts. No evidence of chemical weathering is preserved indicating arid, possibly cold, paleoclimates and rapid erosion/deposition. Absence of predicted geochemical variations indicates that magnetite and phyllosilicates formed by diagenesis under low temperature, circum-neutral pH, rock-dominated aqueous conditions. High spatial resolution analyses of diagenetic features, including concretions, raised ridges and fractures, indicate that they are composed of iron- and halogen-rich components, magnesium-iron-chlorine-rich components, and hydrated calcium-sulfates, respectively. Composition of a cross-cutting dike-like feature is consistent with sedimentary intrusion. Geochemistry of these sedimentary rocks provides further evidence for diverse depositional and diagenetic sedimentary environments during the early history of Mars.

Concepts: Water, Chemistry, Sedimentary rock, Mars, Mineral, Rock, Petrology, Fossil


Magmatic intrusions and volcanic eruptions are intimately related phenomena. Shallow magma intrusion builds subsurface reservoirs that are drained by volcanic eruptions. Thus, the long-held view is that intrusions must precede and feed eruptions. Here we show that explosive eruptions can also cause magma intrusion. We provide an account of a rapidly emplaced laccolith during the 2011 rhyolite eruption of Cordón Caulle, Chile. Remote sensing indicates that an intrusion began after eruption onset and caused severe (>200 m) uplift over 1 month. Digital terrain models resolve a laccolith-shaped body ∼0.8 km(3). Deformation and conduit flow models indicate laccolith depths of only ∼20-200 m and overpressures (∼1-10 MPa) that likely stemmed from conduit blockage. Our results show that explosive eruptions may rapidly force significant quantities of magma in the crust to build laccoliths. These iconic intrusions can thus be interpreted as eruptive features that pose unique and previously unrecognized volcanic hazards.

Concepts: Igneous rock, Petrology, Volcano, Magma, Basalt, Lava, Volcanology, Intrusion


In 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars to assess its potential as a habitat for past life and investigate the paleoclimate record preserved by sedimentary rocks inside the ~150-kilometer-diameter Gale impact crater. Geological reconstructions from Curiosity rover data have revealed an ancient, habitable lake environment fed by rivers draining into the crater. We synthesize geochemical and mineralogical data from lake-bed mudstones collected during the first 1300 martian solar days of rover operations in Gale. We present evidence for lake redox stratification, established by depth-dependent variations in atmospheric oxidant and dissolved-solute concentrations. Paleoclimate proxy data indicate that a transition from colder to warmer climate conditions is preserved in the stratigraphy. Finally, a late phase of geochemical modification by saline fluids is recognized.

Concepts: Mars, Petrology, NASA


The ancient cratered terrain of the southern highlands of Mars is thought to hold clues to the planet’s early differentiation, but until now no meteoritic regolith breccias have been recovered from Mars. Here we show that the meteorite Northwest Africa (NWA) 7533 (paired with meteorite NWA 7034) is a polymict breccia consisting of a fine-grained interclast matrix containing clasts of igneous-textured rocks and fine-grained clast-laden impact melt rocks. High abundances of meteoritic siderophiles (for example nickel and iridium) found throughout the rock reach a level in the fine-grained portions equivalent to 5 per cent CI chondritic input, which is comparable to the highest levels found in lunar breccias. Furthermore, analyses of three leucocratic monzonite clasts show a correlation between nickel, iridium and magnesium consistent with differentiation from impact melts. Compositionally, all the fine-grained material is alkalic basalt, chemically identical (except for sulphur, chlorine and zinc) to soils from Gusev crater. Thus, we propose that NWA 7533 is a Martian regolith breccia. It contains zircons for which we measured an age of 4,428 ± 25 million years, which were later disturbed 1,712 ± 85 million years ago. This evidence for early crustal differentiation implies that the Martian crust, and its volatile inventory, formed in about the first 100 million years of Martian history, coeval with earliest crust formation on the Moon and the Earth. In addition, incompatible element abundances in clast-laden impact melt rocks and interclast matrix provide a geochemical estimate of the average thickness of the Martian crust (50 kilometres) comparable to that estimated geophysically.

Concepts: Mars, Moon, Igneous rock, Petrology, Meteorite, Basalt, Impact crater, Lava