October 3, 2023

A geologist makes a sensational discovery in Franconian Switzerland – a discovery that leaves scientists scratching their heads

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A geologist accidentally makes a groundbreaking find in a mud pit in Franconian Switzerland. The rare metal provides information in climate research.

Erlangen – On that day, master’s student Anna Merkel just wanted to look for samples showing climatic warming in Franconian Switzerland in the Jurassic period. “At that time there was a very interesting global event that is equivalent to climate change today. The exercises should show how the past and the present are connected,” explains Merkel in an interview. Merkur.de. However, by chance she found evidence that the weather was much colder in Franconia during the Jura than previously thought.

Geologist Anna Merkel in her laboratory at the University of Erlangen. © Anna Merkel

“I knew something happened at that time.”

It was equipped with a ruler and a shovel, and took a soil sample every 40 to 50 cm. “Life in the upper layers of the Earth was buzzing with life. Plankton was everywhere. But then it suddenly stopped. So I knew: Something must have happened back then.” The student takes three samples from this layer of the Earth back to the lab. “It was really completely random. It would have been a pile of dirt,” she says.

A thin section of glindonite
Anna Merkel preparing a thin section of a crystal in the laboratory © Anna Merkel

Anna Merkel cuts through soil samples and, upon taking a closer look under a microscope, discovers a crystal that looks very different from what was expected. “When I looked at the samples under the microscope, I was baffled at first, in a way that seemed strange.”

A groundbreaking discovery for science

Merkel showed this discovery to her supervisor at the University of Erlangen and we compared the structure of the rock to other minerals from a huge database. It turned out to be Glendonite. The native mineral is called ikaite, named after the fjord in Greenland where it was first found. “This is a mineral that actually only exists at temperatures as low as -2 to +7 degrees Celsius,” she explains. More than 200 million years ago, the region of Franconia was located at about 40 degrees north latitude, at the level where Italy is today. “So this is really unusual for the region.”

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(Our Nuremberg Newsletter informs you of all developments, news and stories from the Franconian capital.)

At that time, Franconia was under water – Europe was like small islands

With this discovery, the geologist is revolutionizing current climate research and turning things upside down. Because: what was known about the time around 180 million years ago was that Europe was mainly submerged and dotted with small islands. Accordingly, sea currents flowed through Franconia. Merkel now assumes that cold ocean currents In areas that were then flooded, allowing glindonite to form. So science has to bid farewell to Franconia under the palm trees of a tropical climate. “Franconia as a glacier doesn’t quite work out,” Merkel joked in an interview. Merkur.de.

Merkel wants to find more Glendonites in Europe

The prospective geologist is quickly realizing just how groundbreaking her discovery has been for science. We are in the very south. To date, Glendonites have been found more to the north. It’s incredible.” Merkel is now hoping for more discoveries. “We are now looking for more rocks at the same latitudes in Europe.” In a large-scale project, she wants to try to completely reconstruct the ocean currents of Europe’s Jura Sea.

Franconia seems to be an occasion for amazing discoveries. Recently, researchers reported a Bronze Age find near Nuremberg. In doing so, they were able to solve the famous golden hat riddle.

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