Field of Science

In a depth of 1,800 miles, mysterious 'mountains' float along Earth´s core-mantle layer

In a depth of 1,800 miles, mysterious 'mountains' float along the D''-core-mantle boundary since the birth of Earth.

How seismic waves are reflected or scattered inside Earth has long shown that the planet's interior is not uniform, but can be subdivided into various layers. Earth's crust is composed of less dense crystalline rocks, like granite and gabbro. Earth's mantle is composed of magnesium, iron, and silicon dioxide and it's estimated to make up 38% of Earth's volume. The outer core is liquid, composed of very dense elements, like iron, nickel, with traces of sulfur and oxygen. The inner core is solid, almost a pure iron-nickel alloy, maybe even with a crystalline structure (making it possibly Earth's largest crystal). 

Seismic waves have also shown that along the boundary layer between mantle and core, strange blobs or plumes, rise up for many thousands of miles. One hypothesis explains the blobs as remains of partially molten tectonic plates, sinking from Earth's surface into the mantle. The melting plates can´t sink into the much more dense core. Melting completely along the boundary, the remains of the plates form blobs of material, slowly floating back to the surface and driving there the motion of Earth's tectonic plates

Another, more recent, hypothesis explains the blobs as remains of Earth's primordial crust. During Earth's formation a first, primitive crust developed on the cooling surface. Parts of this crust sunk into the mantle, too dense to rise, the material boils slowly there since Earth´s formation. Computer simulations presented during the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna suggest that the plumes are composed of crystallized material, as the long permanence of the material under high pressure and temperature makes it possible to grow grains of minerals, some inch in diameter. As mineral grains form rocks, the plumes are composed of rocks, making them miles-high 'mountains' (sort of...), even if at a temperature of 5,000°C.

The now presented simulations show the distribution of temperature and grain size, with the hotter (yellow to white), coarse-grained (yellow-red), plumes floating along the core and rising into the mantle:


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A 3,000 Year Old Geological Map

According to ancient historians, gold in the kingdom of Egypt was as common as is sand in the desert. It´s true that Egypt exported for centuries large quantities, and even the Romans mined gold in Egypt (last attempts for gold mining were done in the 1950s). However, where the ancient mines were once located became forgotten over time.
Archaeologist Rosemarie and Dietrich Klemm discovered in the 1980s the lost mines following an ancient "geological" map. Discovered near modern Luxor (ancient Thebes) between 1814 and 1821, the papyrus/map was brought to Italy and is today hosted in the collection of the Museum of Egyptian History in Turin. The Turin papyrus dates back to 1,150 BC and  was prepared for an expedition led by Ramesses IV.

Reconstructed map of the Turin papyrus, image source. Pinkish-red= gold-bearing rocks, dark-green= rocks for construction.
Modern interpretation of geology , red=Hammamat-fm sandstone and volcanics, blue= Atalla-Serpentinite, yellow & green= Fawakhir-Granite.

The map shows the landscape around an unknown oasis. Inscriptions describe the "Mountain of the Gold”, the “Mountain of the Silver”, but also the location of the “Village of the Miners”, the "Temple of Amun", the streets to the (Red-) Sea and a street to Ta-menti (an unknown locality). The different colors of the map are inspired by the real colors of the rocks, reddish feldspar-granite (Fawakhir-Granite), dark Atalla-Serpentinite and Hammamat-Formation, and yellow for the sand of the desert. A dry river runs down the entire valley, eroding and transprting the rocks, as shown by the pebbles in different colors. A quarry of bekhen stone, a blue-green sandstone used to carve statues, is shown, as are many mines for gold. The most important indication was the location of a well near the village. Thanks to this well, archaeologists identified the area shown on the map. The ancient mountains of gold and silver are situated in the Wadi Hammamat, near Bir-Um-Fawakhir, an ancient miner settlement, almost 100km east of Luxor. Following the indications of the map into the field, the archaeologist discovered ancient signs of mining, like 50m long tunnels following quartz veins. The important veins are shown as lines in the Turin map. The gold is found as tiny fragments in the massive quartz, almost invisible to the naked eye. That ancient Egyptians found it, is a impressive evidence for their (emprical) geological knowledge. Already in 3,200 BC professional geological prospectors, called “sementi“, searched for deposits and veins of gold, to meet the demand of the divine pharao. Tutankhamun’s tomb alone was filled with more than 500 items, many made of pure gold. Following the veins into the mountain, the miners extracted the rock, crushing it, and washing the heavy gold out. Large deposits of quartz sand, the remains of the crushed rocks, still today testimony the hard work done by the ancient miners.