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Noble gases hitch a ride on hydrous minerals

June 24, 2013
The Ring Cycle

Amphibole’s lattice structure is made up of tetrahedral and octahedral structures linked together in a way that creates a series of rings. It’s those rings — A-sites — that could provide a home for otherwise finicky noble gases. Credit: Parman lab/Brown University

The six noble gases do not normally dissolve into minerals, leaving earth scientists to wonder how they are subducted back into the Earth. Researchers led by Colin Jackson, a graduate student in geological sciences, have discovered that the lattice structure of minerals such as amphibole provides a way. Better yet, the multiple isotopes of noble gases could help scientists track volatiles like water and carbon.

The noble gases get their collective moniker from their tendency toward snobbishness. The six elements in the family, which includes helium and neon, don’t normally bond with other elements and they don’t dissolve into minerals the way other gases do. But now, geochemists have found a mineral structure with which the nobles deign to fraternize.

The findings, which are published in Nature Geoscience, are a step toward answering puzzling questions about how noble gases are cycled between the atmosphere and the depths of the Earth.

Read more of Kevin Stacey's article about noble gases.