Carbon Mineral Evolution

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Carbon Mineral Evolution

Unearthing the secrets of carbon minerals

Understanding the history of Earth is challenging. We can’t jump in a time machine and travel back 2.3 billion years to observe the Great Oxidation event. Or, even more tantalizingly, revisit over 4 billion years ago to see life begin to take hold. But clues exist all around us. The rocks beneath our feet, at the tops of mountains, and at the bottom of the ocean, can each tell a story about how and when they formed.
To piece together these stories, Deep Carbon Observatory scientists are looking to the power of big data. 
Over the next three years and beyond, investigators at the University of Arizona and Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C are deploying big data and multi-disciplinary expertise to document the diversity and distribution of more than 500 minerals of carbon found in Earth’s crust and upper mantle. This effort, known as the “Carbon Mineral Evolution” initiative, is probing carbon mineralogy over Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, unlocking the evolutionary secrets in its rocks and minerals.
Earth Over Time
To understand Earth we must understand how it has evolved over time. To study its history, scientists look to reservoirs of historical information in earth materials. Three states of matter make up the planet—gases, liquids, and mostly crystalline solids called minerals. Gases and liquids are the major agents of planetary change, but they are short lived and do not serve as suitable stores of geologic information.

Stromatolites, layers of lime-secreting bacteria formed in shallow waters, are Earth's earliest known fossils. Pictured here is a specimen at the Houston Museum of Natural History. Credit: Wikipedia user, Daderot. The photo is featured in the page header.

In contrast, minerals are long-lived reservoirs of geohistorical information. They have been forming since the birth of our solar system, with some nearly as old as Earth itself. Their compositions, structures, and transformations record Earth’s entire history; thus developing new and more detailed ways for exploiting this record is one of the most fundamental and important endeavors in science.
Carbon Mineral Evolution scientists are documenting the diversity and distribution of crystalline carbon-bearing minerals, and how they have changed over geologic time. The investigators are conducting their work in the context of two ways of thinking about minerals, which emerged over the course of the last eight years: mineral evolution and mineral ecology.
Harnessing Big Data
The Deep Carbon Observatory scientists involved (Dr. Robert T. Downs and graduate student Joshua J. Golden of the University of Arizona, and Drs. Robert Hazen and Shaunna Morrison of the Carnegie Institution for Science) are using multiple resources and an integrated knowledge base to connect carbon mineral evolution with Earth’s co-evolving geosphere and biosphere.

The DCO Executive Committee examines ophiolite on a field trip lead by Peter Kelemen in Oman in January 2015. Credit: Katie Pratt, University of Rhode Island.

Over the last decade, the mineralogy group at the University of Arizona, in close collaboration with scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science and researchers at several other institutions, have built large and expanding databases of mineral species and their properties (rruff.info/ima), as well as their localities and petrologic contexts (e.g., mindat.org). These resources record, in thrilling detail, the diversity and distribution of mineral species on Earth.
The team is currently working on two interconnected activities. The first involves developing and exploiting these data resources, using statistical modeling and visualization tools to understand quantitatively Earth’s changing carbon mineralogy from crust to upper mantle through 4.5 billion years of Earth history. The second is expanding and exploring the Deep-Time Data Infrastructure (http://dtdi.carnegiescience.edu), which combines mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, paleobiology, and proteomics resources, linking carbon mineral evolution to emerging principles regarding Earth’s co-evolving geosphere and biosphere.
Through this work, the team will create new resources for exploring the nascent field of carbon mineral evolution, with its statistical cousin, mineral ecology.
What is Mineral Evolution?  
Just as life has diversified over time, so have Earth’s minerals. First came carbon in the form of nano-diamonds, accompanied by a dozen other “ur-minerals” initially formed more than 13 billion years ago in the hot, expanding gaseous envelopes of energetic stars. The first stages of Earth’s carbon mineral evolution 4.57 billion years ago are preserved in the rich record of meteorites, which reveal mineral-forming processes that occurred in the solar nebula prior to the formation of planets. More than 250 different minerals, a dozen of which incorporate carbon, reflect planetesimal differentiation, as well as alteration by aqueous, thermal, and shock processes (McCoy 2010).
Subsequent stages of carbon mineral evolution saw diversification related to a complex combination of physical, chemical, and ultimately biological processes (Hazen et al. 2013b). The evolution of Earth’s near-surface carbon mineralogy, notably the diversity and distribution of carbonate minerals, is intertwined with episodes in the origin and evolution of life, including the emergence of chemolithoautotrophic microbial communities by ~3.5 Ga (correlated with the earliest evidence for marine carbonate precipitation); the rise of photosynthetic organisms, which culminated in the Great Oxidation Event at ~2.4 Ga; the innovation of skeletal bio mineralization at ~600 Ma, which irreversibly altered the carbon cycle and, consequently, the nature and distribution of carbonate minerals; and the expansion of the terrestrial biosphere and associated dramatic changes in the near-surface cycling of carbon following the innovation of rooted plants at ~400 Ma.

Robert Hazen looking for minerals along the shore of Chesapeake Bay. Credit: Margaret Hazen.

What is Mineral Ecology?
Mineral evolution research has led to a new statistical approach called “mineral ecology.” This approach considers diversity and frequency distributions of mineral species on Earth--that is, how common minerals are and in what conditions they form. Mineral frequency distributions are analogous to occurrences of words in a book: a few words are common, but most are rare and used only once or twice in a given text. Similarly, of the more than 5100 species of minerals approved by the International Mineralogical Association, fewer than 100 common minerals account for more than 99% of Earth’s crustal volume, with a handful of feldspar mineral species comprising approximately 60 volume percent (Rudnick 2003; Levin 2009). By contrast, most mineral species are known from 5 or fewer localities and are thus rare (Hazen & Ausubel 2016).
This pattern is called a Large Number of Rare Events (LNRE) distribution—a statistical model that facilitates the determination of “accumulation curves,” which are widely used in ecosystem research to estimate total biodiversity (Hystad et al. 2015a, 2015b; Hazen et al. 2015a, 2015b). Knowing this, we can predict the chemical and physical characteristics of minerals we haven’t found but should exist on Earth.
Among these, almost 150 carbon-bearing minerals await discovery— a finding that inspired DCO’s international Carbon Mineral Challenge (mineralchallenge.net). Within the first six months of the challenge, mineralogists reported seven new carbon minerals, including one species of sodium-lead carbonate predicted by Hazen et al.
Carbon Mineral Evolution promises to provide a fresh perspective of Earth’s history by addressing suites of new questions. The answers to these questions may profoundly influence Earth materials research and education by telling the story of Earth in a new and exciting way.
New Questions about Carbon Minerals

  • What were the earliest carbon-bearing minerals on Earth?
  • Did carbon-bearing minerals play a role in life’s origins?
  • What as yet undiscovered carbon minerals occur deep in Earth’s mantle and core?
  • How did the evolution of life affect the evolution of carbon minerals (and vice versa).
  • Why are so many carbon-bearing minerals extremely rare?
  • Are there carbon-bearing minerals on the Moon and Mars and, if so, where are they?
  • Are humans affecting the diversity and distribution of carbon-bearing minerals?

Team Leaders/Contacts

rdowns@email.arizona.edu(Robert T. Downs)
University of Arizona, USA

Dr. Robert T. Downs is a professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona. He is chair of the Mineralogical Society of America Outreach Committee, a member of the Executive Board of the International Mineralogical Association, a co-investigator of NASA’ Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory, and director of the RRUFF project, (rruff.info).

Joshua J. Golden
University of Arizona, USA

Graduate student Joshua J. Golden played a leading role in the development of the mineral evolution feature of rruff.info/ima. He is a PhD candidate under the supervision of Robert Downs and is responsible for continued expansion of this database with carbon mineral data.

rhazen@ciw.edu (Robert M. Hazen)
Carnegie Institution for Science, USA

Dr. Robert M. Hazen, research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University, also serves as Executive Director of the Deep Carbon Observatory. Hazen has authored more than 350 articles and 20 books on science, history, and music.

Shaunna Morrison
Carnegie Institution for Science, USA

Dr. Morrison is a postdoctoral research associate at the Carnegie Institution for Science under the mentorship of Robert Hazen. She is also a CheMin instrument lead on the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission (Curiosity rover). She is consolidating deep-time data on carbon minerals, commencing the study of carbon mineral distribution as a function of depth, and developing mineral network analysis techniques with application to comparative planetology and phase equilibria.

Updates

9 September 20177
Darlene Trew Crist, Synthesis Group 2019 manager

Big data is revealing new minerals and new deposits. In a groundbreaking study led by Shaunna Morrison and DCO Executive Director Robert Hazen, scientists applied network theory (best known for analysis of the spread of disease, terrorist networks, or Facebook connections) for the first time to mineralogy. The results are pioneering a potential way to reveal mineral diversity and distribution worldwide, their evolution through deep time, new trends, and new deposits of valuable minerals such as gold or copper. To read more
 

1 March, 2017
Darlene Trew Crist, Synthesis Group 2019 manager

Human industry and ingenuity has done more to diversify and distribute minerals on Earth than any development since the rise of oxygen over 2.2 billion years ago, say a team led by Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science in a paper published recently in American Mineralogist. The team identifies for the first time a group of 208 mineral species that originated either principally or exclusively due to human activities. That’s almost 4% of the roughly 5,200 minerals officially recognized by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA). Twenty-nine of the 208 human-mediated minerals contain carbon.
The work bolsters the scientific argument to officially designate a new geological time interval distinguished by the pervasive impact of human activities: the Anthropocene Epoch. To learn more, click here.

2 November, 2016
Darlene Trew Crist, Synthesis Group 2019 manager

 

Robert M. Hazen and Robert Downs have been working on projects together for the more than a quarter century. They have perfected the art of launching and successfully executing big projects like Carbon Mineral Evolution.  This project will formally launch in January 2017. These seasoned collaborators will lead research teams at their respective institutions as principal investigators of the Carbon Mineral Evolution project.
Check back regularly for updates as the project progresses.  


Further Reading

Chown M (2008) Earth’s mineral kingdom evolved hand in hand with life. New Scientist 2683

Downs RT (2006) The RRUFF Project: an integrated study of the chemistry, crystallography, Raman and infrared spectroscopy of minerals. Program and Abstracts of the 19th General Meeting of the International Mineralogical Association in Kobe, Japan, O03-13.

Golden J, McMillan M, Downs RT, Hystad G, Stein HJ, Zimmerman A, Sverjensky DA, Armstrong J, Hazen RM (2013) Rhenium variations in molybdenite (MoS2): Evidence for progressive subsurface oxidation. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 366:1-5

Grew ES, Hazen RM (2014) Beryllium mineral evolution. American Mineralogist 99:999-1021 Grew ES, Krivovichev SV, Hazen RM, Hystad G (2016) Evolution of structural complexity in boron minerals. Canadian Mineralogist, in press Hazen RM (2013) Paleomineralogy of the Hadean Eon: A preliminary list. American Journal of Science 313:807-843

Hazen RM (2014) Data-driven abductive discovery in mineralogy. American Mineralogist 99:2165-2170

Hazen RM, Ausubel JH (2016) On the nature and significance of rarity in mineralogy. American Mineralogist 101:1245-1251

Hazen RM, Papineau D, Bleeker W, Downs RT, Ferry J, McCoy T, Sverjensky DA, Yang H (2008) Mineral evolution. American Mineralogist 93:1693-1720

Hazen RM, Golden J, Downs RT, Hysted G, Grew ES, Azzolini D, Sverjensky DA (2012) Mercury (Hg) mineral evolution: A mineralogical record of supercontinent assembly, changing ocean geochemistry, and the emerging terrestrial biosphere. American Mineralogist 97:1013-1042

Hazen RM, Jones AP, Baross JA, eds (2013a) Carbon in Earth. Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry, Volume 75 (Mineralogical Society of America, Chantilly) 698

Hazen RM, Jones A, Kah L, Sverjensky DA (2013b) Carbon mineral evolution. Carbon in Earth, eds Hazen RM, Jones A, Baross J (Mineralogical Society of America, Chantilly) 79-107

Hazen RM, Grew ES, Downs RT, Golden J, Hystad G (2015) Mineral ecology: Chance and necessity in the mineral diversity of terrestrial planets. Canadian Mineralogist 53:295-323

Hazen RM, Hystad G, Downs RT, Golden J, Pires A, Grew ES (2015) Earth’s “missing” minerals. American Mineralogist 100:2344-2347

Hazen RM, Hummer DR, Hystad G, Downs RT, Golden JJ (2016) Carbon mineral ecology: Predicting the undiscovered minerals of carbon. American Mineralogist 101:889-906

Hemley RJ (2014) Carbon in Earth: Quantities, Movements, Forms, and Origins. Midterm Report of the Deep Carbon Observatory (Deep Carbon Observatory, Washington, DC) 30 p.

Hystad G, Downs RT, Hazen RM (2015) Mineral frequency distribution data conform to a LNRE model: Prediction of Earth’s “missing” minerals. Mathematical Geosciences 47:647-661

Hystad G, Downs RT, Grew ES, Hazen RM (2015) Statistical analysis of mineral diversity and distribution: Earth’s mineralogy is unique. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 426:154-157

Lafuente B, Downs RT, Yang H, Stone N (2015) The Power of databases: the RRUFF project. Highlights in Mineralogical Crystallography, eds Armbruster T, Danisi RM (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin) pp. 1-30

Levin HL (2009) The Earth Through Time, 9th edition. (John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken)

Liu X-M, Kah LC, Knoll AH, Cui H, Kaufman AJ, Shahar A, Hazen RM (2016) Tracing Earth’s CO2 evolution using Zn/Fe ratios in marine carbonate. Geochemical Perspectives Letters, in press

McCoy TL (2010) Mineralogical evolution of meteorites. Elements 10:19-24

Perkins S (2008) As life evolves, minerals do too. Science News 174(12):10

Rosing MT (2008) On the evolution of minerals. Nature 456:456-458

Rudnick RL, ed (2003) The Crust. Treatise on Geochemistry, Volume 3, eds Holland HD, Turekian KK (Elsevier-Pergamon, Oxford)

Vasconcelos C, McKenzie JA (2009) The descent of minerals. Science 323:218-219

Appendix 2: References in Mineral Evolution, Mineral Ecology, and Database Development from the Downs-Hazen team (2008 to 2016)

Hazen RM, Papineau D, Bleeker W, Downs RT, Ferry JM, McCoy TJ, Sverjensky DA, Yang H (2008) Mineral evolution. American Mineralogist 93:1693-1720

Hazen RM, Ewing RJ, Sverjensky DA (2009) Evolution of uranium and thorium minerals. American Mineralogist 94:1293-1311

Hazen RM (2009) Les minéraux évoluent aussi. La Recherche 430(May 2009):60-63

Hazen RM (2009) The descent of minerals [in Korean]. Science Donga 282:54-59

Hazen RM, Ferry JM (2010) Mineral evolution: Mineralogy in the fourth dimension. Elements 6(1):9-12

Hazen RM, Eldredge N (2010) Themes and variations in complex systems. Elements 6(1):43-46

Hazen RM (2010) The evolution of minerals. Scientific American, 303(3):58-65

Grew ES, Bada JL, Hazen RM (2011) Borate minerals and the origin of the RNA world. Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 41:307-316

Hazen RM, Bekker A, Bish DL, Bleeker W, Downs RT, Farquhar J, Ferry JM, Grew ES, Knoll AH, Papineau D, Ralph JP, Sverjensky DA, Valley JW (2011) Needs and opportunities in mineral evolution research. American Mineralogist 96:953-963

Hazen RM (2012) The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet (Viking, New York) 306 p. Softcover edition (2013). Foreign language: Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Polish, and Czech editions

Hazen RM, Golden J, Downs RT, Hysted G, Grew ES, Azzolini D, Sverjensky DA (2012) Mercury (Hg) mineral evolution: A mineralogical record of supercontinent assembly, changing ocean geochemistry, and the emerging terrestrial biosphere. American Mineralogist 97:1013-1042

Hazen RM, Papineau D (2012) Mineralogical co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere. Fundamentals of Geobiology, eds Knoll AH, Canfield DE, Konhauser KO (Wiley- Blackwell, Oxford) pp. 333-350

 

Hazen RM (2013) Paleomineralogy of the Hadean Eon: A preliminary list. American Journal of Science 313:807-843

Hazen RM, Jones A, Kah L, Sverjensky DA (2013) Carbon mineral evolution. Carbon in Earth, eds Hazen RM, Jones A, and Baross J (Mineralogical Society of America, Washington DC) pp. 79-107

Hazen RM, Downs RT, Jones AP, Kah L (2013) The mineralogy and crystal chemistry of carbon. Carbon in Earth, eds Hazen RM, Jones A, Baross J (Mineralogical Society of America, Chantilly) pp.7-46

Oganov A, Hemley RJ, Hazen RM, Jones AP (2013) Deep carbon mineralogy. Carbon in Earth, eds Hazen RM, Jones A, Baross J (Mineralogical Society of America, Chantilly) pp.47-77

Hazen RM (2013) Mineral evolution. McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science & Technology 2013 (McGraw-Hill, New York) pp. 247-249

Golden J, McMillan M, Downs RT, Hystad G, Stein HJ, Zimmerman A, Sverjensky DA, Armstrong J, Hazen RM (2013) Rhenium variations in molybdenite (MoS2): Evidence for progressive subsurface oxidation. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 366:1-5

Hazen RM, Sverjensky DA, Azzolini D, Bish DL, Elmore S, Hinnov L, Milliken RE (2013) Clay mineral evolution. American Mineralogist 98:2007-2029

Grew ES, Hazen RM (2013) Evolution of the minerals of beryllium. Stein 2013:4-19. Also Norwegian language version: Evolusjon av Berylliummineraler. Kristiansen R (translated) Stein 2014(3):4-20

Bolukbasi B, et al (2013) Open data: Creating a culture of cooperation. Science 342:1041-1042

Hazen RM, Liu X-M, Downs RT, Golden J, Pires AJ, Grew ES, Hystad G, Estrada C, Sverjensky DA (2014) Mineral evolution: Episodic metallogenesis, the supercontinent cycle, and the coevolving geosphere and biosphere. Society of Economic Geologists Special Publication 18:1-15

Grew ES, Hazen RM (2014) Beryllium mineral evolution. American Mineralogist 99:999-1021

Lee N, Foustoukos DI, Sverjensky DA, Cody GD, Hazen, RM (2014) The effects of temperature, ph and redox state on the stability of glutamic acid in hydrothermal fluids. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 135:66-86

Hazen RM (2014) Data-driven abductive discovery in mineralogy. American Mineralogist 99:2165-2170

Hazen RM (2014) Mineral fodder. Aeon Magazine, published online 6/24/14, 7 p.

Hazen RM, Grew ES, Downs RT, Golden J, Hystad G (2015) Mineral ecology: Chance and necessity in the mineral diversity of terrestrial planets. Canadian Mineralogist 53:295-323

Hazen RM, Hystad G, Downs RT, Golden J, Pires A, Grew ES (2015) Earth’s “missing” minerals. American Mineralogist 100:2344-2347

Hazen RM (2015) Mineral evolution, the Great Oxidation Event, and the rise of colorful minerals. Mineralogical Record 46:805-816,834

Hystad G, Downs RT, Hazen RM (2015) Mineral frequency distribution data conform to a LNRE model: Prediction of Earth’s “missing” minerals. Mathematical Geosciences 47:647-661

Hystad G, Downs RT, Grew ES, Hazen RM (2015) Statistical analysis of mineral diversity and distribution: Earth’s mineralogy is unique. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 426:154-157

Grosch EG, Hazen RM (2016) Microbes, mineral evolution, and the rise of micro-continents: Origin and co-evolution of life with early Earth. Astrobiology 15(10):922-939

Lafuente B, Downs RT, Yang H, Stone N (2015). The Power of databases: the RRUFF project. Highlights in Mineralogical Crystallography, eds Armbruster T, Danisi RM (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin) pp. 1-30

Grew ES, Krivovichev SV, Hazen RM, Hystad G (2016) Evolution of structural complexity in boron minerals. Canadian Mineralogist, in press

Liu X-M, Kah LC, Knoll AH, Cui H, Kaufman AJ, Shahar A, Hazen RM (2016) Tracing Earth’s CO2 evolution using Zn/Fe ratios in marine carbonate. Geochemical Perspective Letters 2:24-34

Hazen RM, Ausubel JH (2016) On the nature and significance of rarity in mineralogy. American Mineralogist 101:1245-1251

Hazen RM, Hummer DR, Hystad G, Downs RT, Golden JJ (2016) Carbon mineral ecology: Predicting the undiscovered minerals of carbon. American Mineralogist 101:889-906

Hazen RM, Hystad G, Golden JJ, Hummer DR, Liu C, Downs RT, Morrison SM, Grew ES (2016) Cobalt mineral ecology. American Mineralogist, in review.

Hazen RM, Grew ES, Origlieri M, Downs RT (2016) Mineralogy of the Anthropocene Epoch. American Mineralogist, in review