Scientists have discovered 4.5 billion-year-old volcanic rocks on Canada's Baffin Island, rocks that were born less than 50 million years after the solar system formed.
The rock formations, called flood basalts, were created by volcanic eruptions and contain pieces of the Earth's early mantle previously thought to have been regularly destroyed by natural processes, Live Science reported
"The fact that these materials have survived through 4.5 billion years of dynamic Earth activity tells us something about the nature and limits of motion in Earth's interior, the source of flood [volcanic] basalt events and eventually about the processes that formed the Earth," said study co-researcher Richard Carlson, director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.
Scientists previously thought the early mantle was destroyed as it melted and mixed with newer materials during collisions with other bodies in space.
Studying isotopes of tungsten, however, they were able to date pieces trapped the much younger lava flow to about 50 million years after the formation of the solar system.
“What we’ve found are surviving parts of Earth’s primitive mantle that have been preserved for four and a half billion years, and I think that’s kind of exciting!” said Richard Walker, a University of Maryland Professor of Geology, according to Canada Journal
The radioactive element hafnium, which was present at the time of the solar system's birth, but is now extinct, decays into tungsten. An abundance of tungsten helped researchers date the materials.
"The survival of this material would not be expected given the degree to which plate tectonics has mixed and homogenized the planet's interior over the past 4.5 billion years, so these findings are a wonderful surprise," Carlson said, according to The Daily Mail
The study involved researchers from the University of Maryland, University of Quebec at Montreal, Carnegie Institution for Science, University of California–Davis, McGill University, and the University of California–Santa Barbara.
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