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Imaggeo on Mondays: The ephemeral salt crystals

Imaggeo on Mondays: The ephemeral salt crystals

Rock salt stalactites (Speleothems) are the indicators of entrance in a salt cave. These crystal stalactites precipitate from brine only at the entrance in the salt caves, as that is the only place where the physical and chemical properties of the air and the brine dripping from the ceiling allow these crystals to grow and be preserved. And they are extremely fragile – if there is just a small change in the brine’s chemistry or the air’s moisture, the crystals will vanish away, dissolved in a pool of brine or a stream of salt water flowing out of the cave. These stalactites of salt crystals are what we call secondary salt; that means the original salt (formed million years ago) dissolved in water and re-precipitated recently.

Yes, you heard right, the sediments that contain these caves are made of rock-salt in the ground. Actually, caves can be formed in various types of soluble materials, from limestone and gypsum to halite (rock salt) or even ice. The salt caves denote the presence of salt near the surface of the earth.

How does the salt get there? Well we do know that there have been moments in the history of the Earth when certain seas (salt giants) have accumulated enormous deposits of salt instead of the more familiar mud sediments. However, we still don’t completely understand the process. That is also due to the fact that, unlike other rocks, salt has a plastic behavior, it tends to ‘flow’ upwards through other rocks, towards the surface (pretty much like wet sand between your feet when at seaside). As salt squeezes its way up, it deforms the rocks around it and creates salt domes that are later dissolved by water. This dynamic behavior of salt means that there are very few places where we can find salt in its original location and the understanding of the natural mechanisms that form salt remains incomplete.

Earth scientists like me, try to understand the mechanism of salt formation. Because the big picture of the past environments where salt is formed is currently blurred, we try to recreate a ‘movie’ of the past, that starts long before the formation of salts and ends long after. In this ‘movie’ we look at the past geography (paleogeography) and past environment (paleoenvironmental) changes from before to after the formation of the salts in order to single out key patterns that can bring us closer to removing the blur from this interesting episode in the story of oceans and seas.

I took this photo while doing field work in eastern Romania. The photo was taken on a tributary of the ‘Slănicul de Buzău’ river in the Buzău Land Geopark, an area of outstanding geological beauty, in the outer hills of South-East Carpathians. When I was stumbling on the salt caves in the field, I had to put mapping and sample collecting on pause. The layers of rock I was following had disappeared, replaced by a chaotic pile of mud, salt and small rock fragments. All I could do was check these rock fragments scattered in the landscape, try to figure out from where they come from, what layers of rock  the salt destroyed and of course, enjoy the geometric beauty of the ephemeral crystals.

By Dan V. Palcu, postdoctoral researcher at the University of São Paulo, Brazil

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo On Mondays: Halo

Imaggeo On Mondays: Halo

One of the main perks of being a geoscientist is that, often, research takes scientists all around the globe to conduct their work. While fieldwork can be hard and challenging it also offers the opportunity to see stunning landscapes and experiencing unusual phenomenon. Aboard the Akademik Tryoshnikov research vessel, while cruising the Kara Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia) Tatiana Matveeva was witness to an interesting optical phenomenon, a halo. In today’s post she tells us more about how the elusive halos form and how best to spot them.

It was one of many mornings on the Kara Sea, but the sunrise was very unusual – we saw halo. Because more often than not, the skies over the Arctic seas are covered in cloud, we were very lucky to see a halo!

Halos are produced by ice crystals trapped in thin and wispy cirrus or cirrostratus clouds, which form high (5–10 km) in the upper troposphere. The hexagon ice crystals behave like prisms and mirrors, refracting and reflecting sunlight between their faces, sending shafts of light in different directions.

Halos can have many forms, ranging from colored or white rings to arcs in the sky. The particular shape and orientation of the ice crystals is responsible for the type of halo observed. For example, halos may be due to the refraction of light that passes through the crystals or the reflection of light from crystal faces or a combination of both effects. Refraction effects give rise to colour separation because of the slightly different bending of the different colours composing the incident light as it passes through the crystals. On the other hand, reflection phenomena are whiteish in colour, because the incident light is not broken up into its component colours, each wavelength being reflected at the same angle. The most common halo is circular halo (sometimes called 22° halo) with the Sun or Moon at its centre. The order of coloration is red on the inside and blue on the outside, you can see it in this picture.

Historically, halos were used as an empirical means of weather forecasting before meteorology was developed.

Anecdotally, in the Anglo-Cornish dialect of English, a halo around the Sun or the Moon is called a ‘cock’s eye’ and is a token of bad weather. The term is related to the Breton word kog-heol (sun cock) which has the same meaning. In Nepal, a halo around the sun is called Indrasabha – the Hindu god of lightning, thunder and rain.

To see a halo, don’t look directly into the sun. Block the sun from your view with your hand, so you can just see the clouds around it. And enjoy beautiful optical phenomenon!

By Tatiana Matveeva, researcher at the Moscow State University

 

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.