Earthquake Turns Water Into Gold; New Study Shows Fault Lines Have the Midas Touch

By iScienceTimes Staff on March 18, 2013 11:07 AM EDT

Gold mining
Pictured is Morro do Ouro gold mine in Paracatu, Brazil. (Photo: Flickr.com/SkyTruth)

A new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience shows that the average earthquake turns water into gold when the intense pressure vaporizes the liquid, leaving the precious metal behind attached to deposits of the mineral quartz. Researchers used a thermo-mechanical piston model to simulate the effects of earthquakes, where fluid-filled cavities in the earth can often expand. This expansion lowers the pressure within the cavity, causing the fluid to expand rapidly and vaporize. Gold contained within the liquid is then deposited in small amounts, there by showing how earthquakes turn water into gold.

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While scientists have long suspected that sudden pressure drops could account for the link between giant gold deposits and ancient faults, the study takes the idea of earthquakes turning water into gold to the extreme, Jamie Wilkinson, a geochemist at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, told Yahoo! News.

"To me, it seems pretty plausible. It's something that people would probably want to model either experimentally or numerically in a bit more detail to see if it would actually work," he said.

Dion Weatherley, a geophysicist at the University of Queensland in Australia and lead author of the study on earthquakes turning water into gold, told OurAmazingPlanet that the amount of gold left behind is quite small. Underground fluids carry at most only one part per million of the precious element, but it is possible for an earthquake zone to build deposits over time.

 "Given that small-magnitude earthquakes are exceptionally frequent in fault systems, this process may be the primary driver for the formation of economic gold deposits," Weatherley said. "This new knowledge on gold-deposit formation mechanisms may assist future gold exploration efforts."

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