Evidence of oceanic 'green rust' offers hope for the future

Jun 26, 2012

A rare kind of mineral which scientists hope could be used to remove toxic metals and radioactive species from the environment played a similar, crucial role early in Earth's history.

Research carried out by an international team of leading biogeochemists suggests for the first time that 'green rust' was likely widespread in and may have played a vital role in the creation of our early atmosphere.

Led by Newcastle University, UK, the study shows that during the Precambrian period, green rust 'scavenged' such as nickel out of the water. Nickel availability is linked to the production of by anaerobic organisms, which is a major sink for oxygen produced during , and thus green rust played a crucial role in the of the Earth's atmosphere.

Only discovered in the last decade, green rust is a highly reactive iron mineral which experts hope could be used to clean up and even .

Newcastle University's Professor Simon Poulton said this latest discovery – published this month in the academic journal Geology – proved the effectiveness of green rust as an environmental cleaner.

"Because it is so reactive, green rust has hardly ever been found before in nature and never in a water system like this," explains Professor Poulton, who led the research team involving experts from the Universities of Newcastle, Nancy, Southern Denmark, Leeds, Brussels and Kansas, and the Canadian Light Source and Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

"The discovery of green rust in Lake Matano, Indonesia, where we carried out our experiments shows for the first time what a key role it played in our ancient oceans – scavenging dissolved nickel, a key micronutrient for methanogenesis."

Dr Sean Crowe of the University of Southern Denmark explains: "We still know relatively little about green rust but our research shows that it is likely to be much more prevalent in the environment than has previously been recognised and the role it plays in cycling elements such as nickel and other metals is significant.

"Understanding the important role it played in our past and its effectiveness at removing metals from the environment will help us to understand how we might be able to use it to clean up polluted land and water in the future."

The high reactivity of green rust is the reason it could be so much help in cleaning up polluted sites. The rust reduces elements like chromium, uranium and selenium, significantly reducing their solubility and mobility in the environment, and in some cases absorbing them into the rust's molecular structure.

Professor Poulton adds: "Green rust has received a lot of attention recently due to its possible role as a pollutant mediator, but it is particularly exciting to think that this may have been a natural process throughout huge periods of ancient Earth history."

Explore further: Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

More information: “Green rust formation controls nutrient availability in a ferruginous water column.” Asfaw Zegeye, Steve Bonneville, Liane Benning, Arne Sturm, David Fowle, CarriAyne Jones, Donald Canfield, Christian Ruby, Lachlan MacLean, Sulung Nomosatryo, Sean Crowe and Simon Poulton. Geology, July 2012.

Related Stories

Pathologist: No soybean rust forecast yet

May 31, 2006

Purdue University plant pathologist Greg Shaner says there's no forecast, as yet, for 2006 Midwest soybean rust, with much depending upon weather patterns.

Elusive rust resistance genes located

Dec 06, 2006

The discovery of a DNA marker for two key rust resistance genes is enabling plant breeders around the world to breed more effective rust resistant wheat varieties.

Researchers find rust resistance genes in wild grasses

Oct 21, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Adelaide researchers have identified new sources of stem and leaf rust resistance in wild grass relatives of wheat sourced mostly from the 'fertile crescent' of the Middle East.

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

Apr 18, 2014

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Caliban
4.7 / 5 (3) Jun 26, 2012
Long on repeat claims of the compound's exceptional reactivity, and very short on detail, but still, it sounds like good news.
Jeddy_Mctedder
3 / 5 (2) Jun 27, 2012
grust?

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...