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Rock salt holds the key to a paradigm shift

A team of international scientists from China, France, Scotland, United States and led by Canadian Professors Nigel Blamey and Uwe Brand of Brock University in southern Ontario made a scientific breakthrough by measuring the oxygen content of Earth's ancient atmosphere. They discovered that gases trapped by halite (rock salt) during crystallization may contain atmospheric gases, among them oxygen.

Rock salt holds the key to a paradigm shift
Halite from the Wieliczka Salt Mine, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wieliczka, 
Malopolskie, Poland [Credit: Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA]
Oxygen is a key component in determining the origin and evolution of higher life forms that ultimately made Earth's land and sea their home. The gases in inclusion of halite represent direct measurements of the ancient atmosphere, and can be used to calculate the dissolved oxygen content of past seawater and lay out the requirements for the evolution of higher life forms in the shallow and deep ocean.

This discovery has applications beyond the origin of life, to evaluating salt units as depositories for hazardous waste material, to tracking atmospheric changes in carbon dioxide and methane with climate change, to pinpointing the genesis of economic metal deposits, and application of this important scientific discovery to the search for life on extraterrestrial bodies.

The open-access study is published the journal Geology.

Source: Geological Society of America [July 15, 2016]

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