Sunday, June 30, 2024

Field Photo: Unusual Himalaya Metamorphic Rock

My friend Emmanuel Theophilus, who spends a lot of time wandering in the high Kumaon Himalaya, sent me this photo of a feldspar rich gneiss.,

He observed this loose boulder near the small settlement of Bugdiyar in the Goriganga valley, north of Munsiyari town. Bugdiyar is located in the Greater Himalaya. This is a high grade metamorphic rock terrain. As you walk along the many trails that lead to places like Nandadevi Base Camp and Milam Glacier,  you can observe mica and amphibole rich schist with gleaming garnets, quartz and feldspar rich gneiss, migmatite gneiss (partially melted gneiss), and leucogranite (quartz and feldspar rich magma) intruding this high grade ensemble. 

This traverse takes you into the core of the Himalaya orogen, where high temperature and pressure during mountain building that took place 35 to 15 million years ago transformed the sedimentary protolith into metamorphic rocks. 

This particular gneiss rock has an extraordinary texture. I have never before seen such large feldspar (white crystals) in a metamorphic rock. Judging by the pebbles and other rocks strewn by the side, these are inches long feldspar grains. 

I want to introduce two terms used to describe texture in metamorphic rocks; porphyroblastic and porphyroclastic. Both these terms describe rocks with very large crystals surrounded by fine grained minerals. These are rocks with two distinct crystal size classes. 

Porphyroblastic texture forms when one mineral grows more quickly than other minerals during metamorphism. Large crystals of the rapidly growing mineral are set in a finer crystalline matrix. Both the large and small sized minerals have recrystallized, but at different rates.  

In contrast, porphyroclastic texture forms when there is a size reduction of some minerals , leaving one unaffected mineral larger than the rest. This situation occurs most commonly in fault zones where softer minerals may get crushed more easily leaving the resistant mineral as a large porphyroclast. These types of rocks have a broken appearance. The softer minerals become aligned to give the rock a prominent streaky banded texture. The more competent mineral may also develop an elongated shape.

Which of the above is the rock Theo found? My guess is that it is a porphyroblastic gneiss. Take a closer look at the beautiful large grains. They seem to be the result of growth during metamorphism, in the process engulfing small pockets of mica in their interiors. The rock lacks the streakiness and the often broken, bent, and stretched large grains characteristic of a porphyroclastic texture.

However, there is a subtle sign of deformation too. Have a look at this close up. 

The black arrows point to rugby ball shaped feldspar grains. They have a long axis and a short axis and appear to be stretched in one direction. Also notice the grey cracks running along the longer axis of many of these crystals and continuing into the rock. These are paper thin zones where force or stress was localized. The change in shape (strain) in the feldspar grains follows these very narrow zones of deformation. 

All of the above is my reasoned speculation on the origin of this texture. The next step is to meet up with Theo near Bugdiyar and walk along the Goriganga in search of the outcrop.

The Goriganga near Bugdiyar. It is spectacular out there!

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Deep Sea Mining, Indian Ocean, Infectious Diseases

Some readings for you:

1) Mining the bottom of the sea: The deep sea bed is considered the last frontier on earth for mining. Large patches of the sea bed are littered with metallic lumps or nodules rich in manganese, cobalt, zinc, and nickel. These elements are considered vital for powering the world's green economy. Nauru, a tiny Pacific Ocean island nation situated northeast of Papau New Guinea, along with a Canadian mining company, wants to start mining a region of the Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. Scientists warn that a hurried push to mine the deep ocean bed will result in an irreversible loss to biodiversity, ecologic functioning, and ocean health. Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the complex legal and regulatory issues and conflicts of interest related to international deep sea mining.

As things stand in June 2024, a deep sea mining code is still being decided by the International Sea Bed Authority. Rohini Krishnamurthy of Down to Earth has the latest news on the progress made on this issue. Negotiations are hampered by a lack of basic science and divergence of views between member states.

2) Indian Ocean headed for a near-permanent state of marine heat wave:  Rapid fossil fuel emissions over the past century or so has changed the earth's energy balance. More energy is now coming in than is being radiated out to space. More than 90% of this excess energy is ending up in the ocean as heat. As a result, the world's oceans are warming up. The Indian Ocean is warming rapidly too. Recent studies have found that it may be heading towards a scary sounding situation known as 'permanent heatwave state' where the sea surface temperatures exceed a threshold value for 220-250 days a year.

Environment and climate journalist Nidhi Jamwal summarizes the findings of this research and a new book titled The Indian Ocean and its Role in the Global Climate System. The consequences are far reaching, impacting tropical cyclones, biodiversity, and fisher folk livelihood.

3) Probing the pathogens that afflicted ancient humanity: Pathogens and humans have been co-evolving for millennia. Paleoanthropologist John Hawks charts out the history of some of the common infectious diseases afflicting humanity. Infection patterns are not random. Rather, they follow networks of transmission shaped by ecology and culture. Very illuminating essay!