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As 2014 comes to a close, the Geochemical Society would like to wish its members, partners and other industry professionals a safe and happy holiday season. As we reflect on the past year for the industry, we would like to provide the readers of Geochemical News a look at the most accessed articles from the year. Our regular publication will resume Jan. 6.


Earth's lower mantle may be significantly different than previously thought
ScienceDaily
From May 27: Breaking research news reveals that the composition of the Earth's lower mantle may be significantly different than previously thought. The lower mantle comprises 55 percent of the planet by volume and extends from 670 and 2900 kilometers in depth, as defined by the so-called transition zone (top) and the core-mantle boundary (below). Pressures in the lower mantle start at 237,000 times atmospheric pressure (24 gigapascals) and reach 1.3 million times atmospheric pressure (136 gigapascals) at the core-mantle boundary.
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New study finds oceans arrived early to Earth
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Nov. 11: Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life. While water is essential for life on the planet, the answers to two key questions have eluded us: where did Earth's water come from and when?
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New record for oldest Earth rock
Sky and Telescope
From March 4: Geochemists have determined that a tiny grain of zircon from Western Australia is more than 4.4 billion years old, pushing back the date when Earth's crust solidified by some 600 million years.
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The dawn of plate tectonics
Science
From Feb. 25: A journey to the Mariana Trench, the deepest crevice on Earth's surface, reveals the great Pacific tectonic plate descending deep into the planet where it recycles back into mantle rock. This recycling of old tectonic plate, called subduction, drives plate tectonics and is nothing new to scientists, but exactly when the process got started is a hot debate. A new study may put that to rest by unmasking a sequence of 4.4-billion-year-old lavas as the remnants of the first subduction zone on Earth. If correct, the discovery marks the dawn of plate tectonics and thus several geological processes critical to Earth's environment and perhaps even its life.
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Fracking: Gas leaks from faulty wells linked to contamination in some groundwater
Ohio State University via ScienceDaily
From Sept. 23: A study has pinpointed the likely source of most natural gas contamination in drinking-water wells associated with hydraulic fracturing, and it's not the source many people may have feared.
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Airborne iron may have helped cause past ice ages
Science
From April 1: It seems straightforward: Iron-rich dust floating on the wind falls into the sea, where it nourishes organisms that suck carbon dioxide from the air. Over time, so much of this greenhouse gas disappears from the atmosphere that the planet begins to cool. Scientists have proposed that such a process contributed to past ice ages, but they haven’t had strong evidence — until now.
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Giant mass extinction quicker than previously thought: End-Permian extinction happened in 60,000 years
ScienceDaily
From Feb. 18: The largest mass extinction in the history of animal life occurred some 252 million years ago, wiping out more than 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of life on land — including the largest insects known to have inhabited Earth.
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Solved? Mystery of Atacama Desert's 'white gold'
LiveScience
Fromb. Feb. 11: The driest, highest desert on Earth, Chile's Atacama Desert, also holds the world's richest nitrate and iodine deposits. As such, a "white gold" rush there fueled Europe's bombs in World War I and helped raise IQs once iodine deficiency was discovered. But even after the nitrate mines closed in the 1930s, the source of the massive mineral drifts remained a mystery.
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Study tests theory that life originated at deep sea vents
WHOI
From April 15: One of the greatest mysteries facing humans is how life originated on Earth. Scientists have determined approximately when life began, roughly 3.8 billion years ago, but there is still intense debate about exactly how life began. One possibility — that simple metabolic reactions emerged near ancient seafloor hot springs, enabling the leap from a non-living to a living world — has grown in popularity in the past two decades.
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Caltech-led team develops a geothermometer for methane formation
Caltech
From July 1: Methane is a simple molecule consisting of just one carbon atom bound to four hydrogen atoms. But that simplicity belies the complex role the molecule plays on Earth — it is an important greenhouse gas, is chemically active in the atmosphere, is used in many ecosystems as a kind of metabolic currency and is the main component of natural gas, which is an energy source.
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