Portsmouth geologists may eventually be able to shed light on two of the planet’s great mysteries after winning privileged access to a highly specialist laboratory.
Dr Craig Storey and Dr James Darling, both in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, won competitive bids to use the UK’s national ion microprobe, in Edinburgh.
Dr Darling and colleagues will use the equipment to date and analyse isotopes of oxygen within minerals called zircon from some of the oldest rocks in the world, providing a glimpse of the true age of the Earth’s earliest crust.
The big question they will attempt to answer is was the early Earth of nearly four billion years ago hot and fiery with no water, or cool and clement, with oceans and similar to today.
Dr Storey and colleagues aim to use their time at the laboratory to analyse isotopes of oxygen within zircons aged between 2.5 and 2.1 billion years from Brazil.
Dr Storey said: “We have some unusual rocks there called granitoids, hardly found elsewhere on Earth in that time period and so we are dating them and measuring isotopes to try and help us understand why these rocks were formed in this time period in Brazil and apparently hardly anywhere else in the world.
“It has been suggested that plate tectonics stopped in this time period, but our rocks suggest otherwise and so are of wide-scale interest.”
Both projects were approved and given funding together worth nearly £50,000 giving them access to a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) funded facility which contains instruments unique within the UK.