Trillion-Ton Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctica

Post 8441

Trillion-Ton Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctica

The European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission detected the huge chunk of ice that broke off Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf on July 12, 2017.

Credit: ESA

One of the largest icebergs ever recorded, packing about a trillion tons of ice or enough to fill up two Lake Eries, has just split off from Antarctica, in a much anticipated, though not celebrated, calving event.

A section of the Larsen C ice shelf with an area of 2,240 square miles (5,800 square kilometers) finally broke away some time between July 10 and today (July 12), scientists with the U.K.-based MIDAS Project, an Antarctic research group, reported today.

Scientists discovered the birth of this iceberg in data collected by an instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite, called MODIS, which takes thermal infrared images. [In Photos: Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf Through Time]

The iceberg was expected, though scientists didn’t know when the crack in the ice sheet would finally release the floating chunk. The rift in the Larsen C ice shelf — the fourth-largest shelf in Antarctica — has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until November 2016 that satellite measurements revealed it had grown to more than 300 feet (91 m) in width and 70 miles (112 km) in length. The most recent measurements from this summer put the rift at 124 miles (200 km) long, with the now-calved iceberg hanging on by a thread; just 3 miles (5 km) of ice connected it with the rest of the ice shelf.

The Larsen C rift began to lengthen in January 2016. Images from July 12, 2017, show that part of the ice shelf had finally broken away.

The Larsen C rift began to lengthen in January 2016. Images from July 12, 2017, show that part of the ice shelf had finally broken away.

Credit: Swansea University/ESA

Even though the towering berg weighs more than 1.1 trillion tons (1 trillion metric tons), it won’t have a direct impact on sea-level rise. That’s because the ice was already floating on the sea. Even so, when an iceberg like this one calves, it can speed up the collapse of the rest of the ice shelf — the new iceberg reduced the area of the Larsen C ice shelf by 12 percent. Also, the ice shelf serves as a barrier to the land-based glacier that feeds the ice shelf; as that barrier diminishes, there’s more of a chance for the ice behind it to collapse into the sea, MIDAS researchers said.

And it’s this once-land-based ice that would impact sea levels, researchers say.

“Although this is a natural event, and we’re not aware of any link to human-induced climate change, this puts the ice shelf in a very vulnerable position,” Martin O’Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team, said in a statement. “This is the furthest back that the ice front has been in recorded history. We’re going to be watching very carefully for signs that the rest of the shelf is becoming unstable.”

As for what will happen to this huge chunk of ice, nobody knows at the moment.

“The iceberg is one of the largest recorded and its future progress is difficult to predict,” Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project, said in the statement. “It may remain in one piece, but is more likely to break into fragments. Some of the ice may remain in the area for decades, while parts of the iceberg may drift north into warmer waters.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to clarify when the rift in the ice sheet first showed up. 

Original article on Live Science.


New Island Pops Up Off the Coast of North Carolina

Post 8436

New Island Pops Up Off the Coast of North Carolina

New Island Pops Up Off the Coast of North Carolina
A new sandbar island has cropped up over the past few months just off the coast of North Carolina. Photographer Chad Koczera couldn’t get to the island on foot, so he sent a drone into the skies to capture this stunning image of the newly-formed island.

Credit: Courtesy of Chad Koczera

A new island suddenly emerged from the sea just off the coast of North Carolina — but officials warn that the spit of land is too dangerous for humans to explore.

The new sandbar island seemingly sprang from the ocean in just a few weeks, the Virginian Pilot reported. The island, which is about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) long and about 480 feet (146 meters) wide, lies off the coast of Buxton, North Carolina, which is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

The new island grew from a mere nubbin in the ocean in April to its current size over Memorial Day weekend. One of the early explorers of the island, Janet Regan, took her 11-year-old son there to collect seashells. Because of its treasure trove of shells, the boy named it Shelly Island, the Pilot reported. [See Images of a Volcanic Island Birthed in Japan]

While the newborn island may be tantalizing for would-be explorers, it’s also very dangerous, Bill Smith, president of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, told the Pilot. Officials with the Cape Hatteras National Seashore have warned people not to try to reach the island.

Because the island formed near a popular fishing spot, years’ worth of fishing hooks could be lurking just below the sand. Sharks and stingrays prowl just beneath the water’s surface in the area, and the narrow 50-foot (15 m) strip of water between the island and the mainland forms a little “river” that creates a strong rip current, he said.

“We’re worried about shark bites, but we’re more worried about drownings,” Smith said.

The sandbar isn’t accessible by foot, so photographer Chad Koczera sent a drone into the skies to capture a stunning aerial photo. More intrepid (or foolhardy) explorers also have tried to reach the island by boat or paddleboard, the Pilot reported.

The area of coastline near the island is always transforming, according to a statement from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The point, called Cape Point, sometimes changes orientation, and currents and storms are constantly shaping the land. It’s likely that such forces formed the sandbar, meaning it could get even bigger or sink beneath the waves in the next year or two, Smith said.

If anyone does attempt a trip to the island, National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac said such a trip “is best accomplished by experienced kayakers or paddle boarders that are using appropriate flotation and mindful of the tides and strong currents in the area.”

Originally published on Live Science

Photos of Siberia’s Mysterious Craters

Post 8435

Photos of Siberia’s Mysterious Craters

Seven giant craters have mysteriously appeared in northern Siberia, possibly due to methane gas released from melting permafrost. Check out these jaw-dropping photos of the strange geological structures. [Read full story about the Siberian craters]

This crater, in the Yamal Peninsula, was discovered in 2014 by helicopter pilots 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Bovanenkovo, a major gas field in the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district. (Image credit: Marya Zulinova/The Siberian Times)

Four Arctic craters can be seen in this satellite image: B1, the famous Yamal hole located 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Bovanenkovo; B2, the recently discovered crater located 6.2 miles (10 km) south of Bovanenkovo; B3, a crater located 56 miles (90 km) from Antipayuta village; and B4, a crater located near Nosok village, north of the Krasnoyarsk region near Taymyr Peninsula. (Image credit:Vasily Bogoyavlensky)

Satellite image of the site before the formation of the Yamal hole (B1). K1 and the red outline show the hillock formed before the emission of methane gas. Yellow outlines show potentially dangerous areas where gas could erupt. (Image credit: Marya Zulinova/The Siberian Times)

Satellite images showing a mound of Earth before the gas emission that formed crater B2 (top). Lakes formed at a couple of the craters, and more than 20 smaller craters were found nearby (bottom). (Image credit: Marya Zulinova/The Siberian Times)

The Yamal lake showing signs of gas emission. (Image credit: Marya Zulinova/The Siberian Times)

Crater B3, located 56 miles (90 km) from Antipayuta village, Yamal district (top). Crater B4, located near Nosok village, north of the Krasnoyarsk region, near Taymyr Peninsula. (Image credit: local residents/The Siberian Times)

The ring of soil around these craters suggests an underground explosion. (Image credit: Vasily Bogoyavlensky/The Siberian Times)

The Russian Center of Arctic Exploration embarked on an expedition to Yamal crater in early November 2014. The researchers were the first in the world to climb down into the crater. (Image credit: Vladimir Pushkarev/The Siberian Times)

Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook &Google+

Oozing Methane Blasts Holes in Siberian Tundra

Post 8434

Oozing Methane Blasts Holes in Siberian Tundra

A crater on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, reported in the spring of 2017.

Credit: Itar-Tass/Zuma

Escaping methane gas has blown at least two new holes in the Siberian tundra in the past few months, according to eyewitness accounts to the Siberian Times and the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Reindeer herders northwest of the village of Seyakha in Siberia’s far north reported seeing an eruption of fire and smoke on the morning of June 28 — an event caught on seismic sensors at 11 a.m. local time, according to The Siberian Times. Scientists visiting the site photographed a fresh crater blown into the banks of a river.

Researchers also discovered a second, previously unknown crater in the Tyumen region of Siberia this month, the newspaper reported. Local herders told Aleksandr Sokolov, a researcher at the Institute of Ecology of Plants and Animals in Russia, that they’d observed fire in the area of that crater in the winter or early spring.

When permafrost melts, it releases large amounts of methane. According to Russian scientists, this sudden release could have led to the explosions. How fast and how frequently this is happening remain controversial topics in the scientific community, given that Siberia is so remote and unexplored. But scientists do agree that Siberia’s permafrost is in danger of melting as the globe warms.

Permafrost is soil that stays frozen all year long. Any organic matter, like dead grass or animal corpses, caught up in permafrost stays frozen, too. But as the Arctic warms, the depth of the spring thaw gets deeper and deeper — a process called active-layer deepening. As the soil thaws, the organic material locked inside begins to decompose all at once, releasing flammable gases such as methane, University of Michigan postdoctoral researcher Ben Abbott told Live Science in March.

In some cases, this release is slow, Abbott said. Other times, the soil can collapse dramatically, creating features called thermokarsts. These can look like landslides, slumps, pits or craters. Some fill with water and become lakes.

Past research suggests that warming can cause explosive changes in the landscape. A study released in June found that at least 100 giant cratersformed in one region on the Arctic seafloor about 11,600 years ago as the ice sheet retreated and destabilized mounds of frozen methane underneath. These mounds, call pingos, sometimes blew craters up to 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) wide into the ocean bottom.

Some Arctic scientists think something similar is happening in Siberia today. Pingos, or soil-covered permafrost hills, occur on land, too. If they melt rapidly, they could release a fiery burst of methane and create craters similar to the ancient ones seen on the seafloor. Previously, Siberian researchers had discovered craters that had never been seen before, but they had not published any information on the ages of the craters or scientific analyses of how they’d formed. The new eyewitness accounts from local herders suggest that the formation of these craters may, indeed, be violent.

Though the region of Siberia where these craters are located is remote, Russian authorities are concerned about the explosions caused by melting permafrost. The crater that formed on June 28 is about 60 miles (100 km) from Sabetta, a newly developed port on the Ob River that’s used to transport liquefied natural gas from the Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye gas field, The Siberian Times reported.

“It is very important for us also to know what to do, because such an eruption can occur anywhere,” Alexander Mazharov, deputy governor of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region in Siberia, told The Siberian Times. “It might hit a technical facility, a residential settlement or a linear object,” he said, referring to a pipeline or railroad.

Original article on Live Science. 


Why Are the Vermilion Cliffs So Red?

Post 8416

Why Are the Vermilion Cliffs So Red?

The red Vermillion Cliffs of Arizona

Credit: tobkatrina/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon, Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs or the astonishingly rainbow-colored hills of China’s Zhangye National Geopark, you likely noticed they have one thing in common: red-colored rocks.

How did these rocks get so red? The answer involves iron, which bonds with other elements to form minerals famous for their red, rusty hue.

To start at the beginning, the iron on Earth came from ancient supernova events, the collapse of large stars that ran out of energy and “died.” After these stars collapsed (due to extreme gravity at their centers), they released a vast amount of new energy, which fused together elements, creating heavier elements, including iron (Fe).

After the force from such a collapse got too immense, the collapsing star exploded outward, sending the elements into space, said Jessica Kapp, a senior lecturer and associate department head of the geosciences department at the University of Arizona. [Photo Timeline: How the Earth Formed]

“When Earth first formed, it grabbed up a bunch of these elements from the space around it, including iron,” Kapp told Live Science in an email.

In Earth’s early history, during the Archean era (4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago), there was little oxygen in the atmosphere. Without oxygen, iron can dissolve in water, and so Earth’s early Archean oceans carried large amounts of dissolved iron, said Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.

However, single-celled organisms began producing oxygen through photosynthesis — a process that uses sunlight to power a reaction between water and carbon dioxide, leading to the creation of carbohydrates and oxygen.

That oxygen got into the oceans and bonded with the iron, leading to the creation of iron-oxide minerals, such as hematite (Fe2O3), which is often red in color, and magnetite (Fe3O4).

“An oxidation reaction you might be familiar with is rusting — when metal reacts with the oxygen in the air and becomes rust,” Kapp said. “In rocks, it is little grains of minerals like hematite and magnetite that have iron in them. Those minerals experience oxidation and become rust, turning the rocks red.”

The creation of these minerals led to the formation of the banded iron formations, the most important iron deposits in the world, Engelder said. The formations are “banded” because they contain layers of hematite between layers of silica, which were laid down as sedimentary rock layers during the during the late Archean to mid-Proterozoic (an era lasting from 2.5 billion to 541 million years ago), according to a 2016 study in the journal Geoscience Frontiers.

The Danxia Rainbow Mountains, located within the National Geopark of Zhangye in China.

The Danxia Rainbow Mountains, located within the National Geopark of Zhangye in China.

Credit: Kattiya.L/Shutterstock

For instance, banded iron formations appear in Carajas, Brazil; Lake Superior, Canada; Hamersley Basin, Western Australia; regions in northern China; and the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota.

In the case of the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, the red color comes from iron-rich minerals that are interspersed with the sedimentary rock at that site.

“Red sandstones are very common in the western United States,” Kapp said. “[They] can be found in places like Sedona, Arizona, and in the Mojave Desert of California at Red Rock Canyon State Park.”

Other red rock formations that contain oxidized iron minerals include the Chugwater Formation in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado and theRedwall Limestone cliff of the Grand Canyon, which was stained red by the iron-oxide minerals leaching out from the layers above it.

Original article on Live Science.

‘Stone Animal’ Lake Seen from Space in All Its Crimson Glory

Post 8374

‘Stone Animal’ Lake Seen from Space in All Its Crimson Glory

  • 'Stone Animal' Lake Seen from Space in All Its Crimson Glory
The crimson glow in Tanzania’s Lake Natron, shown here in an image captured from the Landsat 8 satellite on Marck 6, 2017, is caused by salt-loving microbes called haloarchaea.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

One of the world’s weirdest lakes stands out in scarlet in new NASA images.

Lake Natron in northern Tanzania is an incredibly alkaline body of water. Its pH is as high as 10.5 — not quite as caustic as ammonia, but similar to the laxative Milk of Magnesia. The reason for this bizarre chemistry is the volcanic geology surrounding Lake Natron. The minerals and salts produced by volcanic processes — particularly sodium carbonate — push Lake Natron’s water far above water’s typical pH of around 7, which is neutral on the 0 to 14 pH scale.

Image Album: Lake Natron Gives Up Its Dead

Many animals can’t survive in water that alkaline, but the lake is home to flocks of flamingos and other birds as well as tilapia fish. When the lake’s animals die, their bodies are sometimes preserved by the sodium carbonate minerals that are responsible for the water’s strange chemistry. Ancient Egyptians used sodium carbonate and other naturally occurring salts, known as natron, in their mummification practices. [Photos: Lake Natron Gives Up Its Dead]

Image Album: Lake Natron Gives Up Its Dead

On March 6, 2017, NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite swooped over Lake Natron and snapped shots of the water’s vermillion beauty. The red color is due to haloarchaea, microorganisms that thrive in the lake’s salty waters,according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. At the end of the dry season, when this image was taken, the lake level is particularly low and the concentrated salt ponds are especially colorful.

Lake Natron, located in the Rift Valley of Tanzania, spans an area of about 480 square miles (1,250 square kilometers), according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Lake Natron, located in the Rift Valley of Tanzania, spans an area of about 480 square miles (1,250 square kilometers), according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Near Lake Natron sits Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active volcano that rises abruptly out of the surrounding arid grasslands. According to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only volcano that has erupted carbonatite lava in human history. Unlike most volcanos, which spit out glassy, silica-rich lava, carbonatite lava contains very little silica. It’s made, instead, of carbonate minerals (like natron) that are more commonly seen in sedimentary rocks.

Ol Doinyo Lengai’s carbonatite lava is especially bizarre, erupting at temperatures of around 930 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (500 to 600 degrees Celsius), according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Silica-rich Kilauea lava clocks in at 2,120 degrees F (1,160 degrees C), for comparison, while Mount St. Helens spews lava reaching 1,472 degrees F (800 degrees C).

Original article on Live Science.

Top 10 Rocks That Stink

Post 8315

Top 10 Rocks That Stink


When people think about the properties of rocks, odor is not one of the things that comes to mind. Rocks and minerals aren’t known for what they smell like. Most handbooks and manuals of mineralogy make no mention of odor. In general, it’s true that most rocks don’t smell, but there are some that do.




Photo credit: Didier Descouens

Antozonite is a variety of the mineral fluorite with color that shades from dark violet to black. It’s not unusual for a mineral to have a nickname, but antozonite has several. In German, it is known as “stink-fluss” and “stink-spat.” In English, it has earned the names “stinkspar” and “fetid fluorite.” This rare form of fluorite is infamous for its smell.

When antozonite breaks or is crushed, it reeks. The source of the stench isfluorine gas trapped inside the tiny, porous spaces inside the mineral. When those pores are broken open, the acrid fluorine gas is released and reacts with oxygen and hydrogen in the air. The result of the reactions is pungent ozone gas and hydrofluoric acid vapor, which will attack any unsuspecting noses nearby. Fetid fluorite lives up to its name.



Photo credit: Nevada Outback Gems

Sphalerite is the scratch-and-sniff mineral. It is made up of the elements iron, zinc, and sulfur. It’s also the most important ore mineral for zinc. Sphalerite is commonly found around mineral-rich areas known as sulfide deposits. While it can form lovely transparent yellow-brown to black crystals, it often occurs as an ugly, dark lump with yellow, red, brown or black tints. Unfortunately, there are many other minerals that can also look like dark, ugly lumps with tints of various colors.

Because the color of sphalerite can be so different from place to place, almost every student who has ever taken a mineralogy class has learned a quick and easy scratch-and-sniff test to identify sphalerite: Use the mineral to scratch a piece of unglazed porcelain (called a streak plate), and immediately sniff the scratched mineral. The streak on the porcelain will be a shade of yellow, and the scratched mineral will have a sulfur-like smell resembling the odor of a just-lit match.



Jet Jewelry

Photo credit: Detlef Thomas

The poorest grade of coal is lignite. Living up to its identity as a fossil fuel, many pieces of lignite are true fossils that preserve the shape of trees and branches. The 19th-century Victorians liked to carve and polish lignite to a mirror finish and use it in jewelry. They named it jet. The best-known location for jet is the seaside town of Whitby, on England’s northeastern coast.

Queen Victoria made Whitby famous. After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, Victoria dressed in mourning black for the rest of her life. She popularized jet jewelry from Whitby because jet was one of the few gemstones that didn’t clash with her all-black wardrobe. This makes jet the only fossil fuel that doubles as a fashion accessory.

One of the tests used to identify jet is to heat a needle and then stick it into the rock. If the rock is jet, it will smell like burning tar or coal. Black plastic will smell like burning plastic, and black gemstones like onyx and hematite will not smell at all after being poked with a hot needle. The hot needle test will leave a little pit on the surface of the jet, so it’s not a good idea to try this on your grandmother’s antique Victorian brooch.



Photo credit: Mauro Cateb

Many sulfide minerals are known for their sulfur-like stink. Pyrite, famously known as “fool’s gold,” is the shiny, gold-colored mineral often mistaken for gold. There is no gold in pyrite, only iron and sulfur. Unfortunately for amateur prospectors, pyrite and gold are often found in the same places. There are several ways to tell pyrite from gold, and one is with your nose.

When gold is warmed up, it has no smell, but when pyrite is warmed up, the mineral will begin to stink. Warmed pyrite releases sulfur into the air. That sulfur vapor wants to bond with oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere, producing hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. Hydrogen sulfide (HS) is responsible for the smell of rotten eggs. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the smell of brimstone, the poetic name for burning sulfur. Hot fool’s gold: It stinks!



Photo credit: J.J. Harrison

Not all of the smelly sulfide minerals smell like sulfur. There is one mineral that is shiny like pyrite and also contains sulfur and iron like pyrite (plus one other element), but when struck with a hammer or scratched with unglazed porcelain, it smells like garlic! Even if you love garlic in your food, don’t go taking deep whiffs of this mineral because that one other element is arsenic. This mineral is called arsenopyrite, a pale yellow pyrite lookalike.

The garlic smell is actually the smell of arsenic trihydride, better known as arsine gas. The toxic gas released from scratching or striking a small piece of arsenopyrite isn’t enough to poison an adult, but arsenopyrite isn’t a mineral anyone wants to leave on a kitchen windowsill or in the centerpiece on the dining room table. It may be pretty, but you don’t want children and pets to get a hold of it.




Photo credit:

Anthraconite is a black limestone made of calcite and bitumen. It is also known as “stinkstone” or “swinestone.” Bitumen is that black, sticky tar that is mixed with sand and pebbles to make asphalt road surfaces, though some people use the word “asphalt” interchangeably with “bitumen.” In North America, many people use the word “asphalt” for both the tar substance and the road surface, while many people in Australia use the word “bitumen” in the same way. Regardless, anthraconite is full of bitumen.

If you rub anthraconite with a rag or heat it up, it lives up to its name and produces a fetid or tarry stench. Thankfully, it is an uncommon rock; there are only a few places with notable outcrops, like Michigan and Ontario in North America and Saxony-Anhalt in Germany.


Amber Jewelry

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Another organic gemstone that also has its own smell is amber. Like Whitby jet, amber is also a fossil. In this case, it’s fossilized free resin that is millions of year old. Amber isn’t black and opaque like jet. Instead, it is a clear, yellow-to-red stone, famous for washing up on beaches along the Baltic Sea. It is often less dense than saltwater, so it can float on the surface of ocean. Deposits of amber exist all over the world, and people find or dig for amber in places like Alaska, Prussia, Latvia, New Jersey, Kansas, and the Dominican Republic.

Like jet, the smell of amber is liberated using the hot needle test: Heat a needle up and sick it into the amber. The resultant smell is like burning pine sap or woody incense but with more smoke in it. The hot needle test will leave a pit in the amber, too.

The burning pine smell from amber is not the scent marketed by the perfume industry as “amber scent” or “essential oil of amber.” The use of the word “amber” in perfumes is unrelated to the actual gemstone. Perfume amber is based on modern wood oils and has nothing to do with rocks.

3Oil Shale

Oil Shale

Photo credit: Amcyrus2012

Shale is a clay-rich sedimentary rock found all over the world. If shale gets wet, it usually smells like mud or wet dirt. However, the rock known as oil shale has a smell like diesel oil or tar. That oily smell is from a petroleum-like substance known as kerogen. Kerogen is not yet oil. It needs to be heated or treated with solvents first to turn it into oil.

Getting the oil out of oil shale is not easy, as shale is good at preventing the flow of fluids like water and oil. Even if the kerogen could be turned into oil within the shale, pumping it out is expensive and difficult to do without harming groundwater or the environment. Some oil shale could be mined and then treated above the ground, but mining is expensive and, again, not friendly to the environment.

It will be a long time before anyone uses oil shale to produce oil. Regardless, it’s not hard to find an outcrop of oil shale in areas where it is common, like Northwestern Colorado in North America or coastal Queensland in Australia. On a warm day with no wind, just follow your nose.


No list of rocks that stink can omit the smelly rock made famous by the Bible itself: brimstone. The first famous mention of brimstone in the Bible comes from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 19, Verse 24: “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” Equally as famous is the lake of fire and brimstone from Chapter 21, verse 8 in the Apocalypse of Saint John, better known as the Book of Revelation: “The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”

“Brimstone” is an old name for sulfur, from the Old English “brynstan,” which means “burning rock.” Sulfur and fire are often found together at volcanoes. Volcanic gasses can deposit sulfur on the surfaces of volcanoes and around the mouths of volcanic steam vents called fumaroles. Sulfur is quite flammable, so volcanic eruptions will usually set any sulfur deposits that are present on fire. Fire and brimstone really do go together in nature. Pure, elemental sulfur has no smell. It is the sulfur dioxide smell produced byburning sulfur that is associated with fire and brimstone.



Photo credit: GOKLuLe

Kaolinite is the mineral name for China clay. It is a beautiful, white clay named after Kao-Ling Mountain in China. It is used to make all kinds of ceramics and is also safe to eat. While eating clay may sound strange, people have been swallowing kaolinite for years. It is used in medicines as well as toothpastes.

Up until the late 1980s, the anti-diarrhea drug Kaopectate had two active ingredients: kaolinite and pectin. The odorless sugar compound pectin is a soluble fiber and thickening agent used to make jellies and jams, while kaolinite is excellent at absorbing fluids. The combination of the two was effective against the runs. People old enough to remember the original Kaopectate may also remember its distinctly chalky, clayey smell. That is the smell of the mineral kaolinite.

Catherine Clark is a retired scientist and former college instructor of mineralogy. She writes a blog with the self-explanatory title of