Stability of Organic Molecules: Lessons from Vitamin C

The  stability of organic (carbon-based) molecules is an interesting and challenging topic as there are many different types of functional groups, molecular configurations, and molecular collisions to consider.  Research on the stability of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and other vitamins demonstrates which factors to consider when it comes to the preservation of carbon-based molecules.   Ascorbic acid is a very important but very unstable organic molecule which is characteristic of the class of organic molecules we know as vitamins (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Ascorbic Acid better known as Vitamin C is an unstable organic molecule that is highly water soluble.

Figure 1: Ascorbic Acid, better known as Vitamin C, is an unstable organic molecule that is highly water soluble.

Vitamin stability has been studied for decades under a variety of storage conditions, and it is interesting to see how chemical manufacturers address long term stability issues. As stated on the website of DSM  (a chemical company located in the Netherlands): “The vitamin manufacturing industry has developed products of high purity and quality, with improved stability, high bioavailability and optimum handling and mixing properties…. However, when dealing with complex and reactive compounds such as the vitamins, no product form can offer complete and unlimited protection against destructive conditions, excessive periods of storage or severe manufacturing processes. The individual feed manufacturer must take responsibility for assuring customers that vitamins have been stored, handled and added to feeds in an optimum manner and that vitamin levels are routinely monitored for quality assurance.”

Temperature, water content, pH, oxygen levels, light (type/intensity), catalysts (metals like Fe, Cu, etc), inhibitors, chemical interactions, energy (heat), and time are all factors that affect the stability of organic molecules. Double bonds and other functional groups are susceptible to rearrangements and reactions that vary with these conditions and is why organic chemistry textbooks are so thick! Vitamin C is somewhat stable in a dry, powdered form but dilution in water greatly accelerates the transformation of ascorbic acid into a biologically unusable form.   Low pH’s can slow this degradation but at neutral to higher pH, dilute solutions of vitamin C can degrade very quickly. Every organic molecule has its  own conditions of stability. In general, UV-light and oxygen are constantly attacking these molecules and rearranging their structures into molecular configurations unsuitable for their original purpose.   Water speeds the degradation. This is why many vitamins and pharmaceuticals are packaged in thick, dark containers with desiccants.

Eliminating water, oxygen, and energetic radiation (gamma, x-ray, UV, visible) can greatly extend and preserve organic molecules which is why some biomolecules can be preserved for longer periods of time when embedded in crystalline or amorphous solids like amber or stone. Scientists have tried to mimic natural means to preserve biochemical molecules through the use of sugars like trehalose. Trehalose can help enzymes and proteins preserve their activity when lyophilized (freeze-dried) together. Other sugars and polyols have been explored as a partner chemical that provides many hydrogen bonding sites that stabilize the complex 3-D structure of proteins, enzymes, and nucleic acids in the absence of water but trehalose seems to be one of the best.

Water Bears (tardigrades) (Fig. 2) have been in the news lately because new information about their genome relating to their ability to survive harsh conditions such as absolute zero, vacuum of space, and high temperatures around volcanoes was recently published.

Scanning electron microscopy images of the extremotolerant tardigrade, Ramazzottius varieornatus, in the hydrated condition (a) and in the dehydrated state (b), which is resistant to various physical extremes. Scale bars, 100 μm. From Hashimoto et al., 2016, Nature Communications, 7, 12808 (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License).

Scanning electron microscopy images of the extremotolerant tardigrade, Ramazzottius varieornatus, in the hydrated condition (a) and in the dehydrated state (b), which is resistant to various physical extremes. Scale bars, 100 μm. From Hashimoto et al., 2016, Nature Communications, 7, 12808 (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License).

The November 7, 2016 issue of Chemical & Engineering News featured this recent research as it interests chemists and engineers who are trying to find innovative ways to preserve unstable carbon-based molecules of life: “Although commonly found in moss and lichens, tardigrades are truly aquatic animals, requiring a film of water surrounding their body to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Without water, they dry out, practically cease metabolism, and curl up into a sturdy desiccated form called a tun. It is the tun state that enables tardigrades to withstand many extremes. And then if they return to water, they bounce right back.”   It is believed that tardigrades produce various “dry-tolerant proteins” that “are intrinsically disordered in water but develop secondary structures in the dehydrated state that allow them to stabilize DNA, proteins, and cell membranes.”

Carbon-based chemistry in living systems is  constantly under thermodynamic and kinetic distress from heat, light, radiation, oxygen, water and other reactive chemicals that limits their longevity. This is to say nothing of the enzymatic biological attacks from the microbial world that slice-and-dice organic chemicals in an effort recycle them for their own energetic requirements.   The same flexibility that allows living systems to constantly recycle and renew carbon-based materials are the same mechanisms that inhibit long term stability.


Ryan T. Hayes is a Ph.D. chemist (Andrews University) studying how to preserve vitamin C and other biomolecules through the use of spherical nanopolymers called dendrimers.

 

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Sabbath, Creation and Redemption

The Sabbath, a day set aside to honor the Creator, provides an important opportunity to review briefly two spiritual riches, among many, of the Genesis Creation narratives.

A Creator Worthy of Worship

Thankfully, God created through a death-free method of creation in six days, rather than over long ages as deep-time evolutionary theory suggests. As evolutionist David Hull rightly observes: “The God implied by evolutionary theory is not a loving God who cares about His productions . . . [He] is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.”[i] The worship-worthiness of God is at stake here in the method of creation God uses. The biblical, benign, six-day Creation renders God a good Creator worthy of worship, and not Darwin’s cruel Devil who creates savagely over long ages.[ii] This means that the seventh-day Sabbath is a memorial of a method of Creation which establishes the worship-worthiness of our Creator.

A Creator Able to Justly Forgive Sins

The Sabbath is also a memorial of the sin-forgiving power of the Creator. Deep-time evolutionary theory requires that not only the animals, but even Adam and Eve were under the curse of physical death from the beginning. In this model, death did not enter planet Earth through the disobedience of our first parents, as indicated, for instance, in Romans 8:20-21 and Romans 5:12. Theologian Nigel Cameron observes that this circumstance “overthrows the sin-death causality, and in so doing pulls the rug from under the feet of the evangelical understanding of the atonement.”[iii] If deep-time evolutionary theory is true, the death of Christ on the cross is not the wage of sin. However, if a six-day Creation is true, death in all living things appears after human sin meaning that the sin-death causality is preserved and the blood of Christ still forgives sins.

The Fossil Record and the Global Biblical Flood

The biblical model of a recent, death-free, six-day Creation is dismissed by those who consider the fossiliferous geologic column as the record of millions of years of evolutionary history. However, the biblical account of a global flood resulting in massive destruction of life neutralizes the deep-time geologic criticism based on the fossil record. A global biblical flood responsible for the accumulations of fossil-bearing strata disentangles the six-day Creation from the contention of a preceding record of death, and thus preserves the sin-death causality and the efficacy of the Cross to justly forgive our sins (Rom 3:25; 1 John 1:9). To those skeptical about considering the biblical Flood in the construction of geological models of earth history, Leonard Brand offers these instructive comments: “To use our biblical worldview as a basis for scientific predictions is compatible with the scientific process because it does exactly what science is supposed to do. It puts our theories and hypothesis out in the open to be discussed, to be supported by accumulating evidence, or refuted by the evidence.”[iv]

Conclusion

This brief discussion suggests that the Sabbath is thereby a weekly memorial of a benign method of Creation showing that the Creator is worthy of worship. Secondly, the Sabbath is also a memorial of the truth of the sin-death causality and the power of the Creator to justly forgive our sins. The truth about the six-day Creation, testified by the Sabbath, encourages us all to worship our Maker joyfully with the deepest conviction possible and with thankful praise without end.

John T. Baldwin, PhD.


Endnotes

[i] David Hull, “The God of the Galápagos,” Nature 352 (August 8, 1991):485-486.

[ii] Writing to his friend, J. D. Hooker in a letter dated July 13, 1856, Charles R. Darwin states: “What a book a Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of nature,” (“Darwin Correspondence Project,” The University of Cambridge [2015[:http:/www.darwinproject.ac.uk., accessed May 20, 2015).

[iii] Nigel Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible (Greenwood, S.D. Dak.: Attic Press, 1983), p. 66.

[iv] Leonard Brand, “Worldviews and Predictions in the Scientific Study of Origins” Origins 64 (2015): 10.

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The geological story told by Iceland

Iceland is a volcanic island in the North Atlantic Ocean, slightly below the Arctic Circle. The island is situated on a mid-ocean ridge at the boundary between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate. In Iceland, we find evidence of horizontal movements, in which two plates spread apart as the crust dilates with intrusion of new magma. Iceland, however, is also associated with a mantle plume (a narrow stem of upwelling of magma from deep in the mantle) that has maintained volcanism high and vigorous [1]. Spreading creates some sort of symmetry in the buildup of the island (although slightly distorted by the mantle plume) with the youngest rocks situated on the ridge and the older rocks away from the ridge on both sides (Figure 1).

fig-1

Figure 1: A simplified map of the geology of Iceland showing the spreading ridge in orange and the volcanic systems where volcanism takes place. Older volcanic terrains lie on both sides of the ridge. From https://www.soest.hawaii.edu.

The rocks forming the island are mostly stacks of solidified lava flows. The lava flows are inclined towards the spreading ridge, exposing a continuous sequence of lava flows that date from the middle Miocene to the present. In the oldest part of the sequence, found in the glacially carved fjords of eastern and western Iceland, the lava flows are intercalated with sediments and deposits with plant remains of large trees not found in Iceland today [2]. Continuing upwards in the sequence, we find volcanic products and sediments that are linked to the Ice Age (Plio-Pleistocene) [3], and then on top of the sequence at the ridge we find young lava flows and sediments formed after the Ice Age (Holocene).

The earliest volcanism in Iceland is regarded as being mostly of so called flood basalt type, that is, large outpourings of magma from fissures, forming lava flows that covered widespread areas [4], [5]. Around the world, we find several provinces with flood basalts that indicate events of great turmoil in earth’s mantle in the past. Some of these lava flows in these provinces have volumes 100’s to 1,000’s of km3. These events are difficult to explain in conventional uniformitarian terms, but fit well into catastrophic creationist models e.g. [6], [7] that place this volcanism in conjunction with the biblical Flood and its aftermath. Flood basalt volcanism has only recently caught the attention of scientists, and ongoing volcanic activity in Iceland could help in deciphering the effects of such colossal volcanism. For example, the eruption of Laki in 1783-84, which is regarded by many geologists as a small flood basalt eruption, created a lava flow field of about 15 km3 in 8 months (common sizes of modern eruptions are <0.1 km3), and released about 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide (about three times the annual industrial output in Europe in 2016), triggering temperature drops in Europe of about 1-3°C [8], [9]. The cooling resulted in bad winters and summers leading to poverty and famine in Europe and the death of thousands of people [10], while famine and fluoride poisoning of the surface waters in Iceland caused the death of over 50% of the livestock. The 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano was observed to trigger algae blooms under the ash plume [11], while elevated levels of sulfuric acid, HCL, HF, and metal concentration were measured in snow and precipitation in the Holuhraun eruption in 2014-15 [12]. Furthermore, although not an observation from Iceland, volcanic emissions of CO2 can result in artificial radiocarbon ages (excessively old ages) caused by excess CO2 concentrations in the volcanic grounds [13]. These examples demonstrate that the secondary effects of volcanic eruptions can be many, and we expect the environmental pressure of the flood basalt volcanism around the world in earth’s past history to have been enormous, something that creationists should explore in light of the volcanism associated with the biblical Flood and its aftermath.

Iceland has a wide variety of volcanic products, created in volcanic events ranging from effusive lava outpourings to explosive eruptions [14]. Considering that the largest glaciers in Europe are found in Iceland, some of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland occurred and will occur under glaciers (Figure 2).

fig-2

Figure 2: A view over Landmannalaugar in central south Iceland. The thick rhyolite lava flow centered in the photo (see cars on campsite for scale) is named Laugahraun and erupted around 1477. The light colored mountains surrounding Laugahraun are also of rhyolitic composition but are from eruptions under ice during the ice age.

When magma erupts under water/ice it fragments generating tephra and volcanic breccia, which reworked and remobilized in the water form volcanic sediment deposits [15]. Later, these deposits are modified and hardened by hydrothermal alteration and become what geologists call hyaloclastites. Thus, hyaloclastite deposits preserve evidence of transport by currents and gravity flows indicative of relatively rapid formation within the watery environment of these subglacial eruptions. The process of alteration in the hyaloclastites was thought to require a long time but took only a few years to happen in Surtsey Island that emerged from the sea in an eruption in 1963-67 [16]. Therefore, subglacial eruptions may be a good analogue to very dynamic, high-energy watery environments with rapid sedimentation, reworking, transportation and hardening of sedimentary deposits.

Another interesting phenomenon observed in Iceland is the generation of large volumes of meltwater with geothermal activity and volcanism under glaciers. These meltwaters can burst in high-energy catastrophic flooding events. Outburst floods from eruptions in the glacially covered Katla volcano are estimated to have reached flow rates >200,000 m3/s (which is the flow rate of the Amazon river) [17]. The force of such raging waters carve canyons in hours and leave vast sedimentary flood plains. The canyons of the touristic Gullfoss and Detifoss waterfalls, and the “sandur” deposits (sand plains) in south Iceland are a witness to these glacial outburst floods.

Therefore, Iceland provides insight into several geological processes of great relevance to creationists working on developing models for processes that might have occurred during or after the biblical Flood. Going from plate tectonics, the ice age, flood basalt volcanism and its secondary effects, to catastrophic erosion and sedimentation, all these themes are displayed in an unspoiled environment immersed with natural beauty.


 

References

[1]Bjarnason, I., 2008, An Iceland hotspot saga, Jökull, 2008, 58, 3-16.

[2]Denk, T.; Grímsson, F. and Kvacek, Z., 2005, The Miocene floras of Iceland and their significance for late Cainozoic North Atlantic biogeography, Botanical Journal of Linnean Society, 149, 369-417.

[3]Geirsdóttir, Á., 2011, Chapter 16 – Pliocene and Pleistocene Glaciations of Iceland: A Brief Overview of the Glacial History, Jurgen Ehlers, P. L. G. and Hughes, P. D. (Eds.), Quaternary Glaciations – Extent and ChronologyA Closer Look, Elsevier, Volume 15, 199-210.

[4]Walker, G. P. L., 1959, Geology of the Reyðarfjörður area, Eastern Iceland
Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 1959, 114, 367-391.

[5]Oskarsson, B. V. and Riishuus, M. S., 2014, The mode of emplacement of Neogene flood basalts in eastern Iceland: Facies architecture and structure of simple aphyric basalt groups, Volcanol. Geotherm. Res., 2014, 289, 170-192.

[6]Austin, S. A.; Baumgardner, J. R.; Humphreys, D. R.; Snelling, A. A.; Vardiman, L. and Wise, K. P., 1994, Catastrophic plate tectonics: A global flood model of earths History, Walsh, R. E. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 609-621.

[7]Baumgardner, J. R., 2003, Catastrophic plate tectonics: The physics behind the Genesis flood, Ivey Jr., R. L. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 113-126.

[8]Thordarson, T. and Self, 2003, Atmospheric and environmental effects of the 1783-1784 Laki eruption: A review and reassessment, Geophys. Res., 2003, 108, AAC 7-1-AAC 7-29

[9]Wikipedia – The Laki eruption.

[10]Grattan, J.; Durand, M. and Taylor, R., 2003, Illness and elevated human mortality in Europe coincident with the Laki Fissure eruption, Oppenheimer, C.; Pyle, D. M. and Barclay, J. (Eds.), Volcanic degassing, GeologiGeological , London, Special Publications, 213, 401-414.

[11]Achterberg, E. P.; Moore, C. M.; Henson, S. A.; Steigenberger, S.; Stohl, A.; Eckhardt, S.; Avendano, L. C.; Cassidy, M.; Hembury, D.; Klar, J. K.; Lucas, M. I.; Macey, A. I.; Marsay, C. M. and Ryan-Keogh, T. J., 2013, Natural iron fertilization by the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, Res. Lett., 40, 921-926.

[12]Gíslason, S. et.al., 2015, Environmental pressure from the 2014-15 eruption of Bárðarbunga volcano, Iceland, Geochemical Perspectives Letters, 1, 84-93.

[13]Pasquier-Cardin, A.; Allard, P.; Ferreira, T.; Hatte, C.; Coutinho, R.; Fontugne, M. and Jaudon, M., 1999, Magma derived CO2 emmisions recorded in 14C and 13C content of plants growing in Furnas caldera, Azores, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 92, 195-207.

[14]Thordarson, T. and Larsen, G., 2007, Volcanism in Iceland in historical time: Volcano types, eruption styles and eruptive history, Journal of Geodynamics, Hotspot Iceland, 43, 118-152.

[15]Schopka, H. H.; Gudmundsson, M. T. and Tuffen, H., 2006, The formation of Helgafell, southwest Iceland, a monogenetic subglacial hyaloclastite ridge: Sedimentology, hydrology and volcano-ice interaction, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 152, 359-377.

[16]Jakobsson, S., 1972, On the consolidation and palagonitization of the tephra of the Surtsey volcanic island, Iceland, Surtsey Research Progre. Rep. VI, 121-129.

[17]Tomasson, H., 1996, The jokulhlaup from Katla in 1918, Annals of Glaciology, 22, 249-254.

 

 

 

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Questions: their role in discovery

 

When we are seeking answers, it matters a great deal what questions we ask. That seems obvious, but asking the right questions does not always happen automatically. And one of the important questions is “can I expect to know the answer to this question?”

I am especially thinking of questions and answers relating to faith and science: questions about origins and geological history. First of all, consider two very different questions. If I am skipping flat stones across a pond, and want to know the best angle for the stone to hit the water, I can do experiments to answer that question. Someone did the experiments, and even published the answer in the prestigious scientific journal Nature! There is a vast range of such questions that can be answered with experiments or observations. If I want to know where my grandfather was in the year 1896, and there is no written record, how would I find the answer to this question?

The difference between these two questions is that skipping stones is a process that can happen now, any time we choose to seek answers to our questions about it. But my grandfather’s experiences happened in the past, and we can’t repeat those experiences to study them. There are some events or processes that we can never know unless a reliable eyewitness tells us about them. Some examples are the time I carried a can of gasoline for my empty Chevrolet gas tank and tore my pants wide open on the fence along the freeway, the murder of Robert Kennedy, or the creation of the world. These are all events in history, and we can only know they happened if someone tells us about them.

If our questions are about events in geological history, can’t we do research to answer them? Yes we can, but with definite limitations. If we want to know how a particular layer of sandstone was deposited, we can study how sand is deposited in modern rivers, deserts, or the ocean. This can help us develop hypotheses about the deposit of the sandstone in question, but since we cannot go back in time and watch the sandstone form, our hypotheses will always remain as only hypotheses. Careful study can eliminate the least likely hypotheses, but it may be that none of our hypotheses are correct.

I enjoy asking questions about geological history or about the origins of living organisms, but it is not realistic to think we can ever be sure of the answers to many of these questions. The only written record of this history is found in the Bible, and it only addresses the most basic questions about ancient history. It is OK to have unanswered questions, since it will be impossible for us to find all the answers about history.

When we are seeking to understand the larger issues about biological origins or geological history, we all bring an individual mindset (set of assumptions) to the table. We can refer to this mindset as a worldview. One worldview accepts the Bible account of origins as a true description of history. A very different worldview assumes that the Bible does not give an accurate history, there is no creator or designer, and life has evolved on earth for millions of years (naturalism). These worldviews influence, and often control, the questions we will ask and the range of answers that we will think of. This has far more influence on science than is commonly realized.

Several colleagues and I spent a decade of research on the Eocene Bridger Formation in SW Wyoming, a rock unit containing thousands of fossil turtles and mammals. If we had approached this research from the usual naturalistic worldview, it would have led to questions like the following:

Did this rock formation with its fossils accumulate in five millions years, or in perhaps four million years?

During Eocene time, which of the mammals evolved first, the brontotheres, or the creodonts?

But since we were working within a biblical worldview, we asked questions like the following:

Did this rock formation accumulate slowly, or very rapidly?

Did it accumulate quickly during the global flood?

Did it accumulate slower, over perhaps a few hundred years, after the global flood?

Why are there such massive accumulations of fossil turtles?

Were the turtles killed and buried quickly, or over extended time?

A worldview based on a literal biblical worldview broadened our thinking to include new questions that would not be suggested, and in fact would not be allowed within a naturalistic worldview. We were also very much aware of the interpretations of the rocks given by naturalistic scientists, and deliberately sought to compare the two views and ask which gave better explanations of the evidence. We were not there when the rocks formed, so proving our hypotheses was not a possibility, but our worldview opened our eyes to see things that were not noticed by others, and suggested new, constructive questions, like those listed above (also see Origins Number 64, p. 6-20. 2015). Thus our biblical approach was a benefit, not a hindrance to the research. This has been my experience in all my geology/paleontology research. The approach described here can result in careful research and publications in scientific research journals, and new scientific insights (e.g. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 162:171-209, 2000). God is the most knowledgeable geologist ever, and, contrary to the prevailing worldview, following his biblical outline of history can give us a scientific advantage.

 Leo field photo 96 jpg

Leonard Brand, PhD, Loma Linda University

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Coping with Difficult, Unanswered, and Unanswerable Questions

Difficult, unanswered, and unanswerable questions are often catalysts for paradigm shifts in technology, medicine, and in personal and community value systems.

Challenging questions important to Christian value systems are often about origins, evolution, pain and suffering, age of the earth, and various creation scenarios. Christian education has a responsibility to help individuals learn how to honestly cope with difficult questions in ways that fortify their trust in the biblical worldview. Sometimes, this means learning that the answer to a question may not exist, may exist while being currently unavailable, or that the question may be considered in alternative ways.

A Difficult Question is one that has a tentative answer and might later be determined to be Unanswerable or have an answer different from what has been accepted.

An Unanswered Question as yet has no proposed answer, but we think we can eventually discover an answer.

An Unanswerable Question is one for which we have no way to obtain information/data for formulating an answer.

Some Answers Can Wait

There are profound messages in the story of Job. Job wanted to question God about many things that were happening. God agreed to let this happen but first he posed questions to Job. Job where were you when I did this? Explain how I did this? And, Job had no answers and accepted a relationship that transcended getting all the answers. There were things behind the scenes that Job didn’t understand. Job eventually expresses his commitment to serving God even if God choose to slay him. Job’s relation with God was a faith-based experience that transcended any Difficult, Unanswered, and Unanswerable Questions posed by his tormentors or by God.

 Recognizing that some questions are not answerable can help us cope with our own questions, and lead us to trust the information given us by a loving and trustworthy God.

 – The finite will never completely understand the infinite. –

Robert D. Moon Jr. PhD

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Alpine ophiolites: Remnants of a lost ocean

In 1813, French geologist Alexandre Brongniart published a paper on the mineralogical classification of rocks[1] where he introduced the new name “ophiolite” for a suite of dark rocks rich in the mineral serpentine. The name was coined from the Greek words for “snake” and “rock,” which seemed fitting, given the smooth dark green appearance of ophiolites, vaguely reminiscent of snake-skin (Fig. 1).

serpentinite

Fig. 1: Close-up view of serpentinite (a component of ophiolitic rocks). Coin for scale is 1 cm in size. Totalp ophiolitic nappe, Parsennfurga, Switzerland.

European geologists throughout the 19th and early 20th century were relatively well acquainted with these dark rocks, first identified in several parts of the Apenninic and Alpine mountain chains but also occurring in other regions of the world. Ophiolites were generally interpreted as igneous rocks, forming from the solidification and differentiation of magma or from volcanic effusions.

While studying ophiolites in the early 1900s, German geologist Gustav Steinmann made some important observations that contributed to a better understanding of the origin of these rocks. Steinmann noticed that ophiolites were consistently in contact with layered strata made of limestone, clay, and chert, a silica-rich rock.[2] Sediments of similar composition (lime, clay, and silica ooze) had been recently retrieved from the deep seafloor, during the earliest oceanographic expeditions. Steinmann was aware of this, and he became convinced that ophiolites and the associated sediments must have formed on the deep ocean floor.

If this was true, however, why were rocks from the deep ocean floor occurring several kilometers above sea level in the middle of the Alps? This was puzzling because, at the time, continents and oceans were thought to have remained in a fixed position since their original formation. At the most, it was believed, only continents’ edges could fold to form a narrow oceanic depression, called “geosyncline”. Perhaps, alpine ophiolites were remnants of a geosyncline separating Africa from Europe (Fig. 2). Developing this idea, the Swiss geologist Émile Argand was the first to suggest that a large collision between the drifting continents of Africa and Eurasia had trapped and uplifted the deep rocks of the intervening geosyncline,[3] a model that became a clear precursor to the modern theory of plate tectonics.

staub

Fig. 2: An Illustration of the geoscyncline separating Europe (left) from Africa (right). Ophiolites are represented as black lensoidal instrusions of magma in the geosyncline. Fiigure published in 1924, in the book of R. Staub, “Bou der Alpen.”

However, It would take 40 more years to develop a fuller understanding of the riddle of Alpine ophiolites. In the 1960s, a wealth of new information from the study of oceanic floors revealed that, in the Earth’s past, oceans had been dynamically created instead of being fixed and permanent.[4] It was discovered that the composition and structure of the oceanic crust was very similar to what seen in ophiolitic complexes.[5] The notion of geosynclines at the edges of continents was abandoned and replaced with the concept of plate margins at zones of oceanic subduction and seafloor spreading. Eventually, it became clear that ophiolites were not magmatic intrusions localized in a geosyncline but true slices of oceanic crust trapped in powerful collisions of tectonic plates.

The ophiolites found among the alpine peaks bear witness to the tortuous path of discovery and dynamic development of scientific concepts. They also represent a tangible record of mighty forces being at work in the past. In the pages of Scripture, we find an account of the Earth’s surface being affected by God’s powerful action at the creation and at the flood. Even if revelation does not address the subject of ophiolites, experiencing the gigantic plate motions revealed by these rocks generate a distinct impression that an unfathomable power has been active in the history of our planet and will be active again (2 Pt 3:5-7).

Suggestions for further reading:

Bernoulli, D., & Jenkyns, H. C. (2009). Ancient oceans and continental margins of the Alpine‐Mediterranean Tethys: Deciphering clues from Mesozoic pelagic sediments and ophiolites. Sedimentology, v. 56, 149-190.

Moores, E. M. (2003). A personal history of the ophiolite concept, in Dilek, Y., and Newcomb, S., eds., Ophiolite concept and the evolution of geological thought: Boulder, CO, Geological Society of America Special Paper 373, 17-29.



[1] Brongniart, A. (1813). Essai de classification minéralogique des roches mélangées, Journal des Mines, v. XXXIV, 5-48.

[2] Steinmann, G. (2003). Die ophiolithischen Zonen in den mediterranen Kettengebirgen (The ophiolitic zones in the Mediterranean mountain chains). Bernoulli, D., & Friedman, G. M., translators, in Dilek, Y., and Newcomb, S., eds., Ophiolite concept and the evolution of geological thought: Boulder, CO, Geological Society of America Special Paper 373, 77-91.

[3] Argand, E. (1916). Sur l’arc des Alpes occidentales. Eclogae Geologicae Helveticae, v.14, 145-191; Argand, E. (1924). Des Alpes et de l’Afrique. Bulletin de la Societe vaudoise des Sciences naturelles, v. 55, 233–236.

[4] Hess, H. H. (1962). History of Ocean Basins, In Engel, A.E.J., James, H.L., & Leonard, B.F., eds., Petrologic Studies: A Volume to Honor A.F. Buddington: New York, Geological Society of America, 599-620.

[5] Dietz, Robert S. (1963). Alpine serpentines as oceanic rind fragments. Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 74, 947-952.

 

Ronny Nalin, PhD

Geoscience Research Institute

Posted in Geology, Philosophical and Historical Perspectives, Plate Tectonics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Living with the Exceptional”

There is one small molecule that makes our world unique and special. What is it? Water! Sure, other planets and moons in our solar system may have (or had) water and even more than Earth, but it is rare to find liquid water on the surface of a planet.(Kramer 2015, Wenz 2015)  Let’s consider one of water’s well studied properties: density. The density of pure water can be precisely known to five decimal places as a function of temperature between 0 and 100 oC.(Dean 1999)

 

Water ice cubeWater’s solid phase has a density that is less than the liquid phase. This is very normal to us since this is what makes ice cubes float! However, there are important chemical trends to understand that most materials go through as they transition from solid to liquid to gas phases.   The typical density relationship between solid to liquid to gas is a fairly consistent decrease. Most substances show about a 1.2x (20%) decrease in density going from the solid to liquid phase with an additional 800x (80000%) decrease in density going from a liquid to a gas.(Dean 1999, Lide 2003)  This is easily explained by showing that the intermolecular distances increase with rising temperature. The expansion results from an increase in kinetic energy of the particles which overcomes the attractive intermolecular forces holding the shape and structure characteristic of each phase. This explanation works for most materials, except water and a few elements.

H2O density graphI know of eight materials that exhibit an unusual density change going from a liquid to a solid in that the interatomic distance increases in the solid phase, i.e. the solid phase is less dense than the liquid phase! Seven out of eight materials are elements, or single atom type substances: Ga, Bi, Ge, Si, Pu, Sn & Sr.   However, there exists one compound, which I have been able to find, that also fits this description: H2O. When water freezes, its volume expands by about 9% creating an airy, open lattice structure resulting from hydrogen bonding interactions between the oxygen of one molecule to the hydrogen atom of an adjacent one. This 9% expansion is higher than most of the eight other materials that have this same property. Other substances that have strong hydrogen bonding interactions, such as ammonia, acetic acetic, or hydrofluoric acid, do not exhibit this behavior.   Other substances that are very polar like water also do not exhibit this behavior such as dimethylsulfoxide or formamide. There appears to be no other molecule that has this property. I have had students searching for a few years to find another COMPOUND that has the solid phase less dense than the liquid phase.   Even with the motivation of extra credit, the search continues for another compound that behaves like water. Even if a few others are found, this property is very, very rare.

It is amazing how normal this property is for us. Ice cubes float to the top of drinks; ponds and lakes form ice on the surface, and icebergs sail on the ocean surface. However, this is NOT the normal chemical behavior for most substances. Our everyday chemical experience is with the exceptional rather than the normal. It is hard for us to think of a floating ice cube as something unique, but it truly is.

Another amazing property of water is that liquid water’s density increases as it cools and reaches a maximum density at 4 oC. This gives the additional fortuitous property of cold water sinking as it gets colder, but to a point, then it becomes less dense and rises up. This temperature-density difference is responsible for creating the mixing effect that stirs the great bodies of water. Cold water falls to the bottom and helps push warm water to the top. This means that the whole body of water will need to cool down before ice forms in substantial amounts. This phenomena is a common experience for those of us living near the Great Lakes as we all wait to see when ice forms and if the whole lake will be ice covered.

Floating ice helps protect aquatic creatures in the winter time. This is because ice also behaves as a decent thermal insulator which further thermally protects liquid water once an ice layer forms. If you are not convinced about ice’s capacity to hold heat (i.e. high heat capacity = good thermal insulator), please read about Frederic Tudor who was an American businessman and merchant who shipped ice all over the world. Ice can serve to protect life from thermal variations, but can also be a problem. Ice cover that lasts too long and is too extensive can lead to low dissolved oxygen levels resulting in huge numbers of fish dying, commonly referred to as “winterkills”. It would seem like water should get less and less dense as it cools, but the reality is just the opposite. If any of these properties were different, ice formation would be more prolific, and it would seal oxygen away and decrease light for plants to make oxygen in the water. Another nice thing about ice floating is that ice at the surface means it is warmed up first and melted as the temperature increases. This helps the solid phase to disappear quickly as opposed to accumulating on the bottom.

Liquid water on the surface of a planet is a rare feat but having ice float on water is an even rarer chemical experience. The density of water and ice provide a unique relationship, between the solid and liquid phases of the same material, and this just so happen to be very supportive of life on planet Earth. Next time you see ice cubes floating in water, please pause and consider how unusual this experience is really supposed to be.

 

 

By Ryan T. Hayes, Ph.D.,

Associate Professor at Andrews University

 

Dean, J. A., Ed. (1999). Lange’s Handbook of Chemistry, McGraw-Hill.

Kramer, M. (2015). “Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede Has a Salty Ocean with More Water than Earth “. Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.space.com/28807-jupiter-moon-ganymede-salty-ocean.html.

Lide, D. R., Ed. (2003). CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press.

Wenz, J. (2015). “23 Places We’ve Found Water in Our Solar System.” Retrieved June 14, 2016, from http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a14555/water-worlds-in-our-solar-system/.

 

 

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