Shedding Light on the European Alps

< Previous Issue February 2021 – Volume 17, Number 1 Next Issue > Shedding Light on the European Alps Anders McCarthy and Othmar Müntener – Guest Editors Table of Contents EditorialFrom the EditorsMeet the AuthorsThematic ArticlesSociety NewsCosmoELEMENTSELEMENTS HeritageCalendarDigital Edition Overview Advertisers Next Issue 2021 Topics Overview The European Alps are one of the most studied orogens worldwide.…

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Venus, An Active Planet: Evidence for Recent Volcanic and Tectonic Activity

Similar in size to the Earth, Venus differs from our planet by its extreme surface temperature (470 °C), suffocating atmospheric pressure (about 92 times that of the Earth’s), and caustic atmosphere (mostly CO2, with sulfuric acid rain). Venus is Earth’s hellish twin sister. However, there are some similarities. As for the Earth, Venus has also had a very complex geologic history. During the early 1990s, NASA’s Magellan spacecraft imaged the surface of Venus with radar and gave us a panorama of a volcanic wonderland (Fig. 1). The surface of Venus is dotted with some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system, complete with summit calderas and extensive lava flows. Volcanoes on Venus resemble many of those on Earth, particularly those formed from the eruption of basaltic magma, such as Mauna Kea (Hawaii, USA) and Mount Etna (Italy). One of the biggest unresolved scientific questions about Venus concerns its style and rate of volcanism during its geologic past. Did volcanic eruptions on Venus occur locally and constantly in time? Or did the planet undergo sporadic events of global and catastrophic volcanism which rejuvenated its entire crust in a short amount of time?

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Alps as Inspiration

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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Dr Barbara S. Neumann: Clay Scientist, Industrial Pioneer, Creator of Laponite

Similar in size to the Earth, Venus differs from our planet by its extreme surface temperature (470 °C), suffocating atmospheric pressure (about 92 times that of the Earth’s), and caustic atmosphere (mostly CO2, with sulfuric acid rain). Venus is Earth’s hellish twin sister. However, there are some similarities. As for the Earth, Venus has also had a very complex geologic history. During the early 1990s, NASA’s Magellan spacecraft imaged the surface of Venus with radar and gave us a panorama of a volcanic wonderland (Fig. 1). The surface of Venus is dotted with some of the largest volcanoes in the solar system, complete with summit calderas and extensive lava flows. Volcanoes on Venus resemble many of those on Earth, particularly those formed from the eruption of basaltic magma, such as Mauna Kea (Hawaii, USA) and Mount Etna (Italy). One of the biggest unresolved scientific questions about Venus concerns its style and rate of volcanism during its geologic past. Did volcanic eruptions on Venus occur locally and constantly in time? Or did the planet undergo sporadic events of global and catastrophic volcanism which rejuvenated its entire crust in a short amount of time?

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Formation of the Alpine Orogen by Amagmatic Convergence and Assembly of Previously Rifted Lithosphere

The tectonic and magmatic characteristics of the Alps and Pyrenees during convergence are quite distinct from characteristics associated with classic Benioff-type oceanic subduction. From the initiation of subduction at passive margins until the onset of continental collision, the closure of the Western Tethys never produced a long-lived magmatic arc. This is a consequence of the 3-D architecture of the Western Tethys (a series of hyper-thinned basins and continental blocks) and its narrow width (<500–700 km) prior to convergence. Subduction primarily involved the slow and amagmatic subduction of a narrow domain of dry lithospheric mantle. This type of congested Ampferer subduction led to the sequential and coherent accretion of inherited rifted domains which today form the Alpine and Pyrenean orogens.

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