Earthquake Alchemy: Turning Water into Gold

Posted by - Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Sciences news this week unleashes a world of wonder for mineral lovers and alchemy chemists.

Originally, scientists intended to use alchemy as a way to create gold for various other materials – ideally, cheaper materials. This latest study confirms their success in doing so.

Go alchemists!

This week's copy of Nature Geoscience explains how earthquakes are capable of forming gold deposits in an almost-instantaneous fashion. This impressive feat is accomplished due to the process of vaporization of liquids occurring naturally during an earthquake.

From NBC News:

When an earthquake strikes, it moves along a rupture in the ground — a fracture called a fault. Big faults can have many small fractures along their length, connected by jogs that appear as rectangular voids. Water often lubricates faults, filling in fractures and jogs.

During an earthquake, the fault jog suddenly opens wider. It's like pulling the lid off a pressure cooker: The water inside the void instantly vaporizes, flashing to steam and forcing silica, which forms the mineral quartz, and gold out of the fluids and onto nearby surfaces, suggest Weatherley and co-author Richard Henley, of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Researchers were able to simulate these effects using a thermo-mechanical piston model. They found that, when fluid-filled cavities of 'the earth' expanded, pressure was lowered within the cavity which caused the fluid to expand and vaporize quickly. Then, the gold contained within that liquid was deposited in modest amounts. Any additional earthquake activity would create more gold deposits, thus transforming a modest deposit into one of real substance.

This study explains why large quantities of gold are often found near old fault lines around the world. Ultimately, this research suggest that extreme conditions within the Earth's crust could eventually generate capacious gold deposits.


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