For years, scientists have tried to understand the structure of the Earth. One such scientist is University of Twente geophysicist Dr. Juan Carlos Afonso (ITC Faculty). He recently developed a new method for analyzing the Earth’s continental crust that lays the foundation for predicting geothermal energy sources, but also other critical resources for Earth and other planets. He published his research in the scientific journal nature geoscience.
To minimize the impact of natural hazards and support the transition to green energy technologies, it is fundamental to understand the functioning of the continental lithosphere – the outer part of the Earth – and to predict the location of geothermal energy and mineral resources. Normally, Earth scientists examine one aspect of the Earth’s crust at a time using specific data sets. But it is both the chemical structure of the crust and the small temperature differences that tell geoscientists about the origin and evolution of the planet and the location of the resources beneath our feet. However, combining multiple datasets for this purpose remains a major challenge.
In his research, Afonso managed to formally combine several satellite datasets with terrestrial datasets to see further into the Earth than before. “It’s a whole new way to ‘see’ what’s underneath,” says Afonso. Previously, the only reliable approach to deep resource exploration was the analysis of rock samples brought to the surface by volcanoes (called “xenoliths”). “When you are dependent on volcanoes, you can imagine that such samples are hard to find. They are dispersed in space and time and still have large uncertainties,” says Afonso.
The research team focused on central and southern Africa. The Kalahari, Tanzania and Congo cratons, old and stable parts of the Earth’s upper two layers, have proven useful in the region. “Central and Southern Africa is a natural laboratory that helps us answer fundamental questions about craton formation,” says Afonso, “and there are many datasets of these necessary xenoliths that have helped us prove our method. “.
“This study demonstrated that our method of combining terrestrial and satellite datasets works. We can now extend the search to regions where xenoliths are not available,” says Afonso. According to the researchers, this approach adds to the development of next-generation planetary models and supports the development of cleaner technologies. It lays the groundwork for innovative resource exploration frameworks for Earth, but also for other terrestrial planets. “Perhaps Mars and/or the Moon could be next.”
Juan C. Afonso et al, Thermochemical Structure and Evolution of the Cratonic Lithosphere in Central and Southern Africa, nature geoscience (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-022-00929-y
Quote: New Mapping Technology to Discover Earth’s Resources (June 3, 2022) Retrieved June 3, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-technology-earth-resources.html
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