Jupiter’s Moon Io—A Humans's Guide?

By Richard Harrison | December, 2022


Jupiter’s moon Io is a truly fascinating and unique world. Located just over 400,000 kilometers from the gas giant, it is the inner­ most of the four Galilean moons and the most volca­ nically active body in the solar system. Io’s surface is dotted with more than 150 active volcanoes, which spew out a variety of materials including sulfur, silicon, and methane. These eruptions have created vast plains of molten lava, as well as towering mountains and vast cal­ deras. The surface of Io is constantly changing due to these volcanic eruptions, making it one of the most dynamic and constantly evolving bodies in the solar system.

In the Shadow of War and Other Existential Challenges to Humankind

By Janne Blichert-Toft | October, 2022


When I was assigned this issue of Elements about a year ago to the date of writing this editorial, two things came to my mind straight away. First, the title. What a weird title, I thought, because concrete and cement are just two words for the same thing, right? Well… no! I found this out pretty quickly after talking to the Guest Editors and which you will learn too (if you did not know so already) by reading this issue. For those of you as ignorant as I was (but am not anymore!), the difference between cement and concrete, simply put, is that cement is a powder (the variable compositions of which you will learn if you read on) that, once mixed with water, sand, and gravel and poured into the rotating barrel of a truck, or cement mixer, becomes concrete!

Being Danish and having grown up in Denmark, the other thing that came to my mind when I was confronted with the word “concrete” was its place in history, which several of the articles in this issue also touch upon...

The Siren Call of Cascadia

By Becky Lange | August, 2022


National parks are surely one of the best ideas of the civilized world, right up there with the invention of writing and public educa­tion. Although the United States was the first country to create a national park (Yellowstone in 1872), it is far from having the largest number with its current count at 62. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s registered list, Australia leads the pack (685), followed by Thailand (147) and India (116) for the top three.

We urgently need these preserves now more than ever, not only to protect the biodiversity within them, but for our own sanity and well­being. Not surprisingly, the Cascadia subduction zone (the captivating subject of this issue of Elements) has more than its share of national parks per square kilometer.

One Mineral to Rule Them All

By Richard Harrison | June, 2022


Your starter for ten: what is the connection between the minerals: olivine, garnet, ice, magnetite, and quetzal­ coatlite? Anyone?

Organic Geochemistry's Looming Test

By John Eiler | April, 2022


If the Mars Sample Return program goes as planned, 11 years from now, a can­ister containing 40­some samples of lake sediments and other rocks from the surface of Mars will land in Utah, and, after a  (hope­ fully brief!) period of wor­rying about the imagined dangers of extraterrestrial microbes, these samples will be released for study in Earth’s laboratories. All sorts of scientists will approach these samples with all sorts of goals, but the question with arguably the biggest stakes, the broadest interest, and the greatest potential con­ sequences will be whether these rocks contain incontrovertible evidence of present or past life on Mars.

Beware the Bromides

By | February, 2022

With respect to Br, I was not meaningfully introduced to the term “bromide” until I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. Not in chemistry lab, but rather in a Comparative Literature course. The term “bromide!” was scrawled in red, repeatedly, all over my essay on Moby Dick. Apparently, my deep, philosophical musings on Ahab’s obsessive quest were found to be “trite and unoriginal”. Oh dear! A wellearned, if stinging, instruction on how Br-bearing sedatives (no longer available due to their toxicity) entered the English lexicon to refer to boring and meaningless expressions, in large part due to Gelett Burgess’ 1906 essay, Are You a Bromide?

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Shine On You Crazy Diamonds

By | December, 2021

Despite many of us working in institutions that are signatories to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)—which promotes the idea that it is what you publish, not where you publish that really counts—how many of us still succumb to the reflex reaction of considering submitting to Science or Nature the moment we get an exciting result we think may be deemed “worthy” of a “glamour journal”? As long as we (myself included) continue to attach value to publishing in certain places, and we continue to use where something is published as proxy of its scientific merit, then we will continue to get the publishing system we deserve.

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The Power of Mysterious Words

By | October, 2021

One of the joys of growing up in a little-remarked-upon corner of the upper Midwest USA is that it came with its own secret words and rituals—cricks and bubblers, hotdishes and euchre. The Wisconsin patois served as a daily reminder that humans have a passion for using mysterious languages to express the numinous: cants and glossolalia that describe new things or express new ideas or emotions, and that draw lines, intentionally or otherwise, between the community of “insiders” and everyone else.

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Did Shakespeare Get It Wrong?

By | August, 2021

Upstairs in a secret and secure location,
mineralogical activists have gathered…

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What Have Neutrons Ever Done for Us?

By | June, 2021

Upstairs in a secret and secure location,
mineralogical activists have gathered…

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Nature’s Underground Libraries

By | April, 2021

The city of Oxford (UK), where I have relocated since my last editorial, is a provincial metropolis of some 150,000 souls about 90 km northeast of London. Oxford is famous for its ancient collegiate university, with colleges dating back to 1096. The University of Oxford is slightly less well-known for its remarkable Bodleian Library, created in its present form in 1598 by Sir Thomas Bodley. It is one of just six copyright libraries in Britain and Ireland. A copyright library (or ‘library of legal deposit’) is one that, since 1662, has the right to request and store for posterity a copy of every new work published in English. As you can imagine, one copy of every book published in English amounts to quite a few books over the years. The challenge for any of the copyright libraries is where to store them all. For the Bodleian, in the spirit of the iceberg, the answer lies under the surface, where a substantial fraction of its 13 million print items is stored in vast underground vaults.

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Alps as Inspiration

By | February, 2021

Looking down on the Earth from space, the Alps appear to be a small, and possibly unimportant, adornment to the tremendous girdle of “Alpide” orogens that stretch the full width of the southern margin of the Eurasian continent. But seen up close, and with historical perspective, the Alps punch far above their weight. From the deepest prehistory of our hominid ancestors to the modern age, the Alps have been a formidable barrier to trade, communication, migration, and conquest across the small, but storied, “peninsula” of Europe—a fact brought home for me when I recently toured a museum in Bolzano (Italy) dedicated to the life and remains of “Ötzi”, a man who met his end five thousand years ago in the high peaks and ice fields of the Ötztal Alps.

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Fluids and the Field

By | December, 2020

As someone who firmly sits on the “Lab Rats–Computer Geeks” binary join of the geoscientist ternary diagram (Fig. 1), putting together this “Hydrothermal Fluids” issue of Elements has brought back some vivid memories of my yearly foray into field teaching. Faced with the task of explaining some complex, but fundamentally important, geological process encoded into the face of an outcrop, I would get the inevitable student question: “But why does that happen?” Invariably, my mumbled response would be, “Because of fluids….”. As pointed out – more expertly – by this issue’s guest editors Matthew Steele-MacInnis and Craig Manning, very little happens on Earth without with involvement of fluids, a fact that becomes immediately evident in the field, well away from the clean, dry and highly controlled laboratory environment that I am more comfortable inhabiting. Having finalized this issue, I am looking forward to giving much more detailed answers in the future!

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A Date for Odysseus

By | October, 2020

Time is a big deal for us geologists. Rates of Earth processes range from the mind-numbingly slow (mantle convection) to the catastrophically fast (volcanic eruptions) with everything in between. Geologists move effortlessly from units of seconds to giga years in a way that often confounds scientists in other disciplines; no geologist is unaware of humanitys’ fleetingly brief tenure of the planet in the grand scheme of things.

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Popping the Geosciences’ Bubble of Limited Diversity

By | August, 2020

One of the pleasures of serving as a principal editor of Elements is working with people from across the whole Earth science community, many from places, subjects and institutions who I wouldn’t encounter in the rest of my professorial life. This issue is a good example: its contributing authors and editors include men and women from four continents and seven countries, studying everything from isotope geochemistry to mining to advanced batteries to medical biochemistry, while working in universities, national labs, technology and mining companies, consulting agencies, and a medical center. This breadth reflects the efforts Elements makes to assure that the words in our pages capture the full range of insights and experiences of the diverse minds that are engaged in the Earth sciences. We are proud that many issues of Elements have authors and editors that almost represent a cross section of the world.

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