Goldschmidt 2013 – Day 2 – Carbon, Uranium, Litigation and London

Day 2 of Goldschmidt 2013 is done and what a great day it was. Hectic, but conferences always are. There is just so much to see and do, so many people to talk to and so many people to meet for the first time that it can be a bit overwhelming. The best thing to do is grab a coffee, and dive right in.


My first talk of the day was by J. Schmitt and was called CF4 and CO2 – Coupling Weathering and Carbon Cycle. This very interesting talk introduced me to a new gas that can be used as proxy for weathering over time: CF4. CF4, it turns out, comes from fluorite that is contained in very small quantities in granite. When glaciers scrape the top off a granite outcrop they expose this fluorite and it weathers to release CF4. The CF4 then hangs out in the atmosphere for 50-400 thousand years. It eventually gets trapped in ice cores and can then be used to calculate long term weathering rates.


One thing that everyone does a conferences like Goldschmidt is support their colleagues from home. With this in mind the next talk I attended was by Mike Power from uOttawa. Mike gave a great talk on exploration geochemistry and how we can use noble gases and metals in soil to look for deeply buried uranium deposits.  I won’t go into more detail here. If you want to read about Mike’s work check out the guest post he did for me a few months ago.


Once Mike finished his talk I went to support another familiar face. Not that he needs it since his talk was standing room only. I speak of Dr. Kurt Kyser who hails from my beloved alma mater Queens University at Kingston. Kurt was speaking about the importance of geochemistry to our lifestyles (abstract). Amazingly, Kurt stated that in our lifetimes we each use approximately 2 million kilograms!! of metal, mineral and fuel resources. In order to sustain this quality of life we are always searching for new mineral deposits that can provide us with these things. However, most of the easily obtainable ores deposits have already been obtained. This leaves us with the problem of finding new deposits that are not so easy to discover. Kurt gave a great overview of the techniques we can use to do this, such as sampling unusual things like tree sap or leaves to find deposits. He also made the point that a good geochemical characterization of ore deposits makes remediation much easier when it is time to close the mine and reclaim the land. Yeah Queens!!


The next talk was an interesting look at the source of iodine and chromium in the Atacama desert. It was given by A. Perez-Fodich and was called The role of groundwater in the formation of the giant nitrate deposits of Atacama: Iodine-129 and stable chromium isotopic evidence (abstract). The Atacama desert is one of the dryest places on Earth and is home to some very unusual mineral deposits. Indeed, it is one of the only places on Earth where minable quantities of iodine can be found. The iodine is found in huge nitrate deposits and is likely coming from weathering of nearby ocean sediments. It is then transported by groundwater to the desert where the water evaporates leaving the iodine behind.


The next talk I am going to highlight really galvanized me. I intend to write a full post about this once I get a chance to do some more research. The speaker was Luigi Marini and the talk was called How to Protect Geochemists Working on Environmental Issues from Litigation? (abstract). The talk covered an ongoing Italian court case in which several geochemists from the University of Siena have been sued after publishing results stating that they could not find above background levels of depleted uranium and former Italian military firing ranges. These results infuriated the public which felt that some sort of cover-up was occurring and a local prosecutor initiated litigation against the researchers. This incident has strong shades of the L’Aquila earthquake verdict and therefore it is crucial that strong technical advice is provided by the scientific community to ensure the no miscarriage of justice like that of L’Aquila can happen in this case.


John Ludden, Director of the British Geological Survey, gave a great closing talk in the Importance of Geochemistry session entitled the Geochemistry of London (abstract). At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, what geochemistry is there in a city. Wow, was I ever wrong. John introduced the projects that the BGS and partners have going on to monitor and understand pollution in London. This is massive undertaking and they have actually mapped the geochemical distribution of many contaminants on a street by street resolution for the entire city as well as numerous analyses of the water and sediment in the Thames. The most interesting points were the numerous indications of pollution from the past still present in soil and sediment. Indeed, the Thames had very high PAH levels that were left over from the coal burning era and leaded gasoline er, petrol left its mark on London soils. Incredibly, there was one place, the site of a former manufacturing plant, that had such high nickel it could be considered valuable ore material by today’s standards.


Stay tuned for Day 3!