Scientists have detected high concentrations of a light isotope of helium called helium-3 in volcanic rocks on Baffin Island, a Canadian island in the Arctic. This confirms the theory that the noble gas is leaking from the Earth’s core and may have been doing so for millennia, American scientists report in the journal Nature.
While helium-4 is commonly found on Earth, helium-3 is more easily found on Earth space, which is why scientists were surprised when they discovered a much larger amount of this element in the rocks on a Canadian island than before. Baffin Island is the largest island in the Arctic Archipelago and the fifth largest island in the world.
A team of scientists studied lava flows that appeared there millions of years ago when Greenland and North America separated, making way for a new seafloor. Higher concentrations of helium-3 and helium-4 were detected on the rocks studied than in previous studies and anywhere else on Earth, and the measurements varied depending on the samples collected.
As the study’s lead author, Forrest Horton of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutio in the US, explained, there is about one helium-3 atom per million helium-4 atoms. Scientists on the Canadian island detected about 10 million helium-3 atoms per gram of olivine crystals, a type of minerals that make up lava.
Where did helium-3 come from on a Canadian island?
Detecting elements leaking from the Earth’s core could help scientists gain insight into the formation and evolution of our planet. According to previous research, trace amounts of helium-3 leaking from the Earth’s core support the popular theory that the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago in a solar nebula, a cloud of dust and gas that probably collapsed under the shock wave of a nearby supernova containing the element.
Helium originating in the solar nebula, it was probably trapped in the Earth’s core during the formation of the planet, making the core a reservoir of noble gases. Helium-3 came to the surface as magma on Baffin Island. “During the eruption, the vast majority of the magma gases escaped into the atmosphere,” Horton said.
According to scientists, this research proves the hypothesis that helium-3 has been leaking from the Earth’s core for some time, but it is not clear when this process began. The authors of the paper claim that the isotope they detected could have been released “100 million years ago, or perhaps much earlier.”
CNN, phys.org, tvnmeteo.pl
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