Discovering the Mysteries of Our Planet’s Birth – Baffin Island’s Clues to Earth’s Core
In a monumental scientific breakthrough, a team of researchers led by Forrest Horton, an associate scientist in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has detected a surprising abundance of helium-3 in volcanic rocks on Canada’s Baffin Island. This finding provides compelling evidence supporting the long-standing hypothesis that this rare variant of helium is leaking from Earth’s core and has been doing so for millennia. The results of their research have been published in the prestigious journal Nature.
Helium-3 (3He) is a scarce isotope of helium, primarily found in outer space, contrasting with helium-4 (4He), which is abundant on Earth. The scarcity of helium-3 on our planet can be attributed to its lack of significant production or addition, causing its loss to space over geological time. As the Earth’s rocky layers move and convect, they give rise to the ascending, cooling, and sinking of materials, ultimately leading to helium loss to the atmosphere and beyond.
Understanding the presence of elements escaping from the Earth’s core is crucial in unraveling the mysteries of our planet’s formation and evolution. Baffin Island, situated in the territory of Nunavut, Canada, played a pivotal role in this groundbreaking discovery. The island’s volcanic rocks contain an unexpectedly high ratio of helium-3 to helium-4, first identified by Solveigh Lass-Evans in 2003 as part of her doctoral studies under the supervision of University of Edinburgh scientist Finlay Stuart.