Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Is Your Wobbly, Illegible Touchscreen Signature Still You?

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Is Your Wobbly, Illegible Touchscreen Signature Still You?

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Technology changes us as much as we change technology. It trains us to behave in certain ways, to modify how we speak or move to better accommodate its utility. In some cases, technology can transform the very things that define us. Perhaps the most literal example is our handwritten signature, a core talisman of identity. Developed in response to the ancient technology of paper and ink, it’s lately been confronted with the primacy of keyboards and screens.

Think about how you most often sign your name, if you do at all: It’s not with a pen. Over the past decade, businesses have updated their points of sale with touch pads and styluses. Signing contracts increasingly happens electronically, where you either “draw” your signature with a mouse or just type in your name. More recently, mice and styluses have disappeared in favor of fingers. Touchscreen computers and Square machines have turned signatures into a thing you must jab and press into existence—a thing that never looks quite right.

Twitter is full of people crowing that their digital signatures look wrong. Some embrace the anarchy of it, approaching the Square payment screen like a blank canvas to create modern art. Others just dash off a squiggle. For a long time I took a purist’s approach, trying my best to stay true to my real signature, deleting and trying again when it came out weird, apologizing to people in line behind me. All of the people I’ve talked to about this, from friends to cashiers to fellow shoppers, say their on-screen signature bears little resemblance to their “real one” now. Some admit that the muscle memory to handwrite their names—that last vestige of cursive—is atrophying, leaving them with an inconsistent John Hancock. Always, a note of anxiety creeping in these confessions.

“Your signature is like a public image,” says Sheila Lowe, a writer and handwriting expert who works as a forensic document analyst for court cases. “A signature shows what the person wants the world to know about them.” Lowe is also president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, a group of graphologists who believe handwriting can reveal personality traits. Whether or not you believe in graphology, which has been called a pseudoscience, there’s no doubt signatures matter—legally, emotionally, even neurologically. Now people are wondering if it matters that their signatures are changing.

Last year, Lowe worked for Adobe at the company’s big conventions, luring people to the Adobe Sign software booths with a free handwriting analysis. “We were having people sign on the iPad and on paper. To a person, they’d complain about the way their handwriting looked on the iPad,” Lowe says. “Our on-screen signature just doesn’t represent us in the same way.”

The Origins of an Identity (Crisis)

Before I had a signature of my own, I had my dad’s. He’s a well-known actor, and when I was a little kid in the ’80s people mailed photos of him to our house hoping he’d sign them and send them back. He always did, but there were so many that, well, other people helped out. My mom knew how to do his signature exactly. So did his assistant, and starting around 7 years old, so did I. As my brothers got older, they did some too. We’d all sit around the kitchen table together with stacks of headshots and sign Dad’s name with sharpies. (I’m sorry if you received a forgery. For what it’s worth, we put a lot of love into it and none of us can tell the difference.)

So when I was 8 years old and beginning to dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up—a writer, movie star, and also a news broadcaster, and to drive a large red truck—I knew the first thing I needed was a signature of my own. I sat at the end of my bed with a notebook and pencil and modeled one based on Dad’s. The light out my window dimmed as I tried different iterations, eventually landing on something that felt like me: a big loopy E followed by large scribbles cascading into smaller scribbles, exploding into a D that sweeps around, hits the E, strikes through the center of itself to cross a previously planted F, and ends in a dashed line. I practiced and practiced until I had to turn on the light by the bed to practice more. As I wrote it, I imagined what it would feel like to be a success in my own right one day (teaching my own daughter how to copy it for my fans).

“George W. Bush’s signature is just like his father’s. It is that need to live up to that ideal,” she says, casually diagnosing one of the most fundamental aspects of my psyche.

I grew up, and for a quarter century the loops and lines of my signed name remained mostly fixed. Whether I was signing a love letter, a parking ticket, or the lease on my first apartment—fwiw, it was never an autograph—there was my crafted self, emblazoned on the dotted line.

Then the stylus forced a stutter. My chubby finger began to smudge the lines. Vainly (in both senses of the word) I tried to make it look right. This is my signature, I thought for years, and some newfangled technology is not going to change it! Then I gave up. I embraced a shorthand signature just for screens. It’s not a real signature. Just a big E and D.

When I tell Lowe how my signature has changed, she asks me how I developed it in the first place. I tell her it’s “inauthentic” because I based it on a parent’s. “Well, so that says that you identify strongly with that parent. Look at George W. Bush. He does that. His signature is just like his father’s. It is that need to live up to that ideal,” she says, casually diagnosing one of the most fundamental aspects of my psyche.

Now that Lowe and I are down this path, I ask what it says about me that I’ve allowed Square payment machines and DocuSign screens to change the way I represent myself in the world. “Whatever form your signature is going to take is going to reflect something about you,” she says. “You called the other signature inauthentic. So maybe this one is more authentically you.”

Mind-blown emoji. Maybe changing my signature now, when I have a career and family of my own, proves I’m finally stepping out of Dad’s shadow. Or maybe I’ve just grown lazy. Or less concerned with self-image. Or more nihilistic.

Legally and Practically, Too

Signatures carry more than just emotional freight. Their most important power, of course, is legal. They evolved so humans could bind themselves to agreements. Before the written signature, the Romans had signet rings to seal documents. The point of both is mostly the same: to execute some kind of contract.

An inconsistent signature can open the door for fraud, according to attorney Nicholas W. Schwandner, who has written about the significance of signatures and seals in contract law. He says it’s mostly you who would be asked to authenticate your own signature. Your bank may get in touch to ask if you actually purchased something, for instance. In that way, it doesn’t really matter if your signature is exactly the same every time; what matters is that you can recognize it as your own. But if signing on a screen—with a pen, with your finger, with a cursor—and on paper means you have vastly different signatures out there, it raises the possibility that you could take advantage of that and disavow a legitimate signature in an attempt to get out of making a payment. Or you could honestly not recognize a signature as your own. “If someone denies that that’s their actual signature, the way that it would be proven would generally be finding other documents that have signatures on it. If it looks entirely different, it could create a problem of proof,” Shwandner says.

When I recently had to sign a bunch of legal documents, the official accepting them warned me that I had to sign in the exact same way across the whole stack, lest the legality of the contract be called into question. That requirement differs across regions, Schwandner says, and can even vary according to the whims of individual county clerks.

As a forensic document examiner, Lowe is the person banks and courts hire when there’s some handwriting dispute, and she says the key thing to understand is that signatures always change. “What I do is ask for as many signatures that are known, and not disputed, around the time of the questioned signature. Looking at a signature from 20 years ago may not be helpful because handwriting does change,” she says. The screen problem complicates things because it introduces more inconsistency in the same time period than might otherwise be there.

Screens can do more than that—they can make signatures obsolete entirely. For one thing, new ways to authenticate your identity have popped up, from pin codes to fingerprints, the latter being theoretically more secure because it can’t be forged. Screens also shrivel the cultural knowledge necessary to make signatures work.

For years, handwriting education has been replaced in US schools with typing lessons. In 2009, when the Common Core Curriculum was first developed, cursive instruction was written out, notes Lowe. In some cases, kids don’t know how to sign their name at all. However, it’s more recently been making a comeback. There are now 18 states that mandate handwriting instruction during elementary school.

Lowe, for one, is glad. Handwriting is too useful to ignore. And, in her experience, too revealing. At the end of our conversation, she tells me a story. “Twenty years ago, my daughter was murdered by her boyfriend, who was a federal agent,” she says. “He killed himself too. When she first met him, she brought his handwriting for me to analyze, and we talked about it. There were some serious red flags for pathology in it that we discussed. So, you know, handwriting has played quite an important part in my life.”

For most of us, the stakes of any individual handwriting specimen will never be so high. But even if it’s just our way of saying “This is who I am,” the act of crafting our names matters. The next time I sign for a coffee, I think I’ll try harder to make my signature true—adding those squiggles back in, my dashes, because they’re mine.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired California Lawmakers Move to Protect Gig-Economy Workers

Hexbyte Tech News Wired California Lawmakers Move to Protect Gig-Economy Workers

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Uber drivers protesting outside a company office ahead of its initial public offering last month.

Scott Varley/Getty Images

The California Assembly passed legislation on Wednesday that could have a profound effect on hundreds of thousands of workers by requiring companies like Uber, Postmates, Amazon Flex, and others to recognize much of their workforce as employees entitled to labor protections and benefits. The proposed law cuts to the heart of one of Silicon Valley’s fiercest debates at the moment: Should tech giants be allowed to classify the legions of gig-economy workers their companies rely on as independent contractors, or should they be forced to regard them as employees, and compensate them as such?

Lawmakers in California appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of the latter. Less than a month after ride-hail drivers around the globe briefly went on strike on the eve of Uber’s IPO to protest low wages and their status as contractors, the bill was approved 53 to 11. It now moves to the state Senate.

Other states and cities have previously attempted to regulate gig-economy work, with proposals often targeted at a single industry. Last year, for example, New York City imposed a mandatory minimum wage and temporary cap on ride-hail drivers. California’s legislation is notable in its scope, which goes far beyond the tech economy.

“Big businesses shouldn’t be able to pass their costs onto taxpayers, while depriving workers of the labor law protections they are rightfully entitled to,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “This legislation is an important work in progress to provide certainty to California’s businesses, provide protections for California’s workers, and guard the taxpayers from subsidizing unscrupulous corporations.”

If signed into law, the legislation will codify a landmark April 2018 California Supreme Court ruling, which introduced a three-part test to determine which workers businesses can reasonably classify as independent contractors and which must be treated as genuine employees. Workers considered employees are entitled to key labor protections and benefits—such as a minimum wage, overtime pay, and protections under antidiscrimination laws—which many gig-economy companies have long resisted.

To designate workers as independent contractors under the bill, companies will have to prove the following: that they don’t control or direct the person’s work; that the worker’s services aren’t related to the company’s main business; and that the person is engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature” as the work performed.

Uber and Lyft drivers would “pretty clearly fit as employees under this statute,” says Alex Rosenblat, a technology ethnographer at Data & Society, and author of Uberland. The bill could also affect the workers powering popular delivery apps like Postmates and Grubhub; child and pet care services like Care.com and Wag; and on-demand fulfillment operations like Amazon Flex.

Rosenblat thinks the bill is likely to pass in California’s Democratic-majority Senate, especially given the popular backlash to large tech companies. She says the legislation’s reclassification of workers could have a major impact on gig-economy firms’ already meager bottom lines, along with the way lawmakers around the country think about addressing tech workers’ rights.

“They are setting a powerful political example for how to regulate tech and try and create better conditions under which people work in the gig economy,” she says. “And that’s pretty important.”

In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said: “We support efforts to modernize labor laws in ways that preserve the flexibility drivers tell us they value, while improving the quality and security of independent work.” Lyft did not respond to requests for comment.

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Hexbyte  News  Computers As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?

Hexbyte News Computers As Mass Timber Takes Off, How Green Is This New Building Material?

Hexbyte News Computers

Mass timber construction is on the rise, with advocates saying it could revolutionize the building industry and be part of a climate change solution. But some are questioning whether the logging and manufacturing required to produce the new material outweigh any benefits.

By Jim Robbins

April 9, 2019

The eight-story Carbon 12 building in Portland, Oregon is the tallest commercial structure in the United States to be built from something called mass timber.

If the many fervent boosters of this new construction material are right, however, it is only one of the first mass timber buildings among many, the beginning of a construction revolution. “The design community in Portland is enthralled with the material,” said Emily Dawson, an architect at Kaiser + Path, the locally-based firm that designed Carbon 12.

The move to mass timber is even farther along in Europe. That’s because mass timber – large structural panels, posts, and beams glued under pressure or nailed together in layers, with the wood’s grain stacked perpendicular for extra strength – is not only prized as an innovative building material, superior to concrete and steel in many ways, it is also hoped it will come into its own as a significant part of a climate change solution.

Among architects, manufacturers, and environmentalists, many want nothing less than to turn the coming decades of global commercial construction from a giant source of carbon emissions into a giant carbon sink by replacing concrete and steel construction with mass timber. That, they say, would avoid the CO2 generated in the production of those building materials and sequester massive amounts of carbon by tying up the wood in buildings for decades or even longer, perhaps in perpetuity.

There are new mass timber buildings in London, Atlanta, and Minneapolis, and an 80-story high-rise is proposed for Chicago.

“Say the typical steel and concrete building has an emissions profile of 2,000 metric tons of CO2,” said Andrew Ruff, of Connecticut-based Gray Organschi Architecture, a leading proponent of the laminated wood revolution. “With mass timber you can easily invert so you are sequestering 2,000 tons of CO2. Instead of adding to climate change you are mitigating climate change. That’s the goal.”

And it is taking off. Mass timber has a two-decade track record in Europe. The 18-story Mjösa Tower just opened last month in Norway. An 18-story mass timber building was recently built in Vancouver as well, and an 80-story high-rise is proposed for Chicago. There are new commercial mass timber buildings in London, Atlanta, and Minneapolis. Some 21 timber buildings over 50 meters (164 feet) tall will be completed in Europe by the end of the year, according to one report.

But there are big questions being asked about just how sustainable the new building material is –especially about how forests that produce mass timber are managed, and how much CO2 would be emitted in the logging, manufacture, and transport of the wood products used in the construction. So far, critics say, there aren’t good answers to these questions.

Carbon 12 in Portland, Oregon is the tallest building in the United States made with mass timber.
Courtesy of Kaiser + Path

“We want to debunk the myth that mass timber is in any way, shape, or form related to some kind of environmental benefit,” said John Talberth, president of the Center for Sustainable Economy, which is based near Portland. “That’s simply not true.”

Yet proponents say mass timber does have real promise as a way to sequester massive amounts of CO2, if a fully sustainable life cycle comes together. “We are working with a large interdisciplinary team of climate scientists, carbon cycle researchers, metallurgists, and foresters to really understand the potential climate impacts of mass timber at scale,” said Ruff.

A lack of understanding of the full CO2 picture has not kept the field from taking off. The burgeoning demand for mass timber posts and beams has seen sawmills open in the timber towns of the the U.S. Northwest and loggers go back to work to harvest the pine, fir, and spruce used in the manufacture. The first certified U.S. producer of mass timber – also known as cross-laminated timber – opened in Riddle, Oregon in 2015. Other producers have either recently opened or soon will. Analysts call it a revolution in building and the next great disruption of the construction industry, for a number reasons that have nothing to do with the environmental aspects.

“Because its components are fabricated off-site to [precise specifications], it goes together really fast on site,” said Dawson. “So you can cut months off the construction time. It’s more predictable than concrete. You can work through cold weather and don’t have to worry about the temperature tolerances of concrete. It’s also a lot quieter than other kinds of construction, so you can be a good neighbor.” It’s stronger than steel, lighter, and, surprisingly, may be as fireproof.

The possible prodigious climate benefits are what has many people taking mass timber seriously.

Architects say the exposed wood interiors in these buildings are warmer than other materials and far more aesthetically pleasing. Michael Green, who builds mass timber structures in British Columbia, said some people walk into buildings he has designed and want to hug the wooden interiors. The dense laminated beams also hold up well to fire, unlike other kinds of wood construction.

Mass timber can be cheaper than concrete and steel, depending on where it is sourced. And when production is scaled up across the globe, experts say, mass timber should be considerably cheaper.

The possible prodigious climate benefits, though, are what has many people taking mass timber seriously. These benefits come because of two big facts about commercial construction. First, CO2 emissions from the building industry account for about 40 percent or more of global CO2 emissions. And the manufacture of concrete and steel each contribute about 5 percent of global emissions.

Using mass timber for commercial construction could greatly change that equation. But there are key questions about the life cycle of mass timber, and some say the industry doesn’t have enough data yet to back up its claim that it is a major climate change solution.

Glue is applied to create cross-laminated timber at the D.R. Johnson Lumber Company in Riddle, Oregon, one of the first mass timber-certified manufacturers in the U.S.
AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

After the building has run its course, the beams would need to be stored without decomposing or re-used without releasing the CO2 in order to make the carbon equation work. And there are numerous unknowns about how much CO2 would be expelled in the logging, manufacturing, and transport of mass timber products. The forest products industry is already the largest source of CO2 emissions in Oregon because of fuel burned by logging equipment and hauling trucks, the burning of wood, and the decomposition of trees after they are cut.

Beverly Law, a professor of global change biology and terrestrial systems science at Oregon State University who headed up the Oregon forest study, says there hasn’t been a thorough analysis of carbon emitted by mass timber production because it is enormously complex to track the factors that produce CO2 in forest ecosystems and in production. Some of the data needed, she said, is incomplete or absent. It took her team of researchers more than a decade of analysis to figure out that the Oregon wood products industry was the largest emitter of CO2 in the state, Law said.

“We looked at long- and short-term products, what mills burn for heat, fuel burned for harvesting, transporting from forest to mills to end use, and emissions along the way,” she said. Another major issue is how long the wood will be in use, which is not yet known. In addition, Law said, any analysis of CO2 must account for how much the forest is taking up before and after logging, “and a lot of people don’t pay attention to that part of it. We just don’t have the information to run this through a life cycle assessment.”

“We must ensure that mass timber drives sustainable forestry management, otherwise all of these benefits are lost.”

The forestry part is what has some skeptical of how ecologically sound mass timber is and, if and when it’s scaled up, whether it will truly provide a planetary climate solution. In a letter to the city of Portland last year, representatives of Oregon environmental groups — including the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility — raised serious doubts about mass timber as a green climate solution and questioned the city’s plan to use it.

First and foremost, they said, is the need to certify that wood is logged sustainably and certified as such. “Without such a requirement,” the letter stated, the city “may be encouraging the already rampant clear-cutting of Oregon’s forests… In fact, because it can utilize smaller material than traditional timber construction, it may provide a perverse incentive to shorten logging rotations and more aggressively clear-cut.”

Such industrial-type forestry — large-scale plantings of trees selected to grow fast — creates a “biological desert,” said Talberth, of the Center for Sustainable Economy. “And it’s driving the extinction of thousands of species. Mass timber is mass extinction.”

“We must ensure that mass timber drives sustainable forestry management, otherwise all of these benefits are lost,” agreed Mark Wishnie, director of forestry and wood products at The Nature Conservancy. “To really understand the potential impact of the increased use of mass timber on climate we need to conduct a much more detailed set of analyses.”

A crew in southwestern Oregon hauls logs that will be used to manufacture mass timber.
AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

Wishnie said The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and a dozen universities and other research institutions are launching a new analysis of mass timber.

At the same time, he said. “there is enough data to say the [CO2] savings are significant.” He said the substitution of concrete and steel with wood and the long-term carbon storage in mass timber buildings make up about 75 percent of the total benefit, and the forestry end, if executed sustainably, about 25 percent.

While there is disagreement on many points, making the mass timber movement work, proponents say, is essential. “If you look 30 years down the road to 2050, we’re projected to have 2.3 billion new urban dwellers,” said Ruff. “That is a huge amount of construction. Every day that goes by that we don’t convert from mineral-based extractive construction techniques to carbon sequestering building systems, we tend to dig ourselves further in a hole.

“So,” he added, “the question is, how can we grow this fast enough to be a solution for climate change?”

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Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | China’s saber-rattling on rare-earths trade has US officials looking for options

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | China’s saber-rattling on rare-earths trade has US officials looking for options

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |

distant dream —

Coal runoff could be a solution; Pentagon wants funding for rare-earths independence.

Hexbyte - Tech News - Ars Technica | Rare earth oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.

Rare earth oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.

On Wednesday, Chinese newspapers ran commentaries warning the United States that escalating trade tensions would result in China cutting off its rare-earth-minerals trade with the US.

China is the dominant supplier of rare-earth minerals around the world. The minerals are used in all sorts of advanced materials and play a prominent role in the operation of electric motors, wind turbines, and military-related material.

According to Reuters, China’s official People’s Daily ran an article saying: “Undoubtedly, the US side wants to use the products made by China’s exported rare-earths to counter and suppress China’s development. The Chinese people will never accept this!”

The commentary continued: “We advise the US side not to underestimate the Chinese side’s ability to safeguard its development rights and interests. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!”

A similar message apparently ran as an editorial in the Global Times on Wednesday.

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | US response: Get rare-earths from coal waste

China has thus far imposed mild tariffs on the rare-earth ore coming to it for processing. This tariff has squeezed the bottom lines of the owners of the only US rare-earth mine at Mountain Pass, Calif. Mountain Pass ships its ore to China for processing into industrial-grade metal, because there are no comparable rare-earths processing plants in the US. An Australian rare-earth minerals company announced last week that it would join with a US chemical company to build a rare-earths processing plant in Texas, but such a plant is likely years away from becoming a reality.

China restricted its rare-earths supply before, in 2010, when it cut its export quota by 40 percent and sent prices skyward. In 2012, the US asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to intervene, and in 2014, the WTO said that China’s restriction of rare-earth-metals exports violated international trade law.

Despite the high prices caused by China’s export restrictions in 2010, the country is still the dominant supplier of processed rare-earth minerals. This is, in part, because processing the minerals can be environmentally taxing and wealthier countries like the US have little appetite for being home to a processing plant that creates a lot of (sometimes radi

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Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Hawaii warns tourists of parasitic worm that can burrow into human brains

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Hawaii warns tourists of parasitic worm that can burrow into human brains

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |

Brain invaders —

Health dept reports three more cases in people who visited Hawaii Island.

Hexbyte - Tech News - Ars Technica | Male Angiostrongylus cantonensis

Enlarge / Male Angiostrongylus cantonensis

Hawaii’s health department has released fresh warnings about a parasitic worm that can infest human brains after officials confirmed that three more visitors to the state picked up the infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed three new cases in unrelated adults visiting Hawaii Island from the US mainland, the health department announced. The latest known victims—who became infected at different times—bring the state’s 2018 case total to 10 and the 2019 total to five.

While there were 17 confirmed cases in 2017, the state counted only two cases total in the prior decade. The new case counts indicate a sustained boom in the parasite’s population and spread.

The parasitic worm in these cases is the rat lungworm, aka Angiostrongylus cantonensis. As its common name suggests, the wandering worm primarily takes up residence in rats’ lungs, where female worms lay their eggs. Young worms leave the nest early to find their own windy homes, though. Larvae get coughed up into rats’ throats then swallowed. The hosting rat eventually poops out the young parasites, which then get gobbled up by feces-feasting snails and slugs (intermediate hosts). When other rodents come along and eat those infected mollusks, the prepubescent parasites migrate to the rats’ brains to mature before settling into the lungs and reproducing. The cycle then starts again.

Humans are an accidental host, typically infected when they inadvertently eat an infected slug or snail that has slid into their salad fixings or other produce. Officials have blamed the recent boom in human cases, in part, on an explosion of an invasive “semi-slug,” which is particularly good at picking up the parasite.

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | All in your head

In humans, young worms make their way to the brain as they would in a rat. But the rambling invaders rarely s

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Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature | Scientists Detect Ancient Sea Salt in Diamonds, Proving Their Extraordinary Origins – ScienceAlert

Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature | Scientists Detect Ancient Sea Salt in Diamonds, Proving Their Extraordinary Origins – ScienceAlert

Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature |


31 MAY 2019

Earth is not one to sit still. For roughly 3 billion years, our planet has been perpetually recycling its ocean floor, swallowing up old oceanic crust in some areas and pouring out new seabed in others. Diamonds, it would seem, are the beautiful byproducts of all this restlessness.

Tipped off by tiny traces of trapped salt, researchers have now shown that most diamonds are crystals of submerged carbon, created from recycled seabed crusts cooked deep underground.

“There was a theory that the salts trapped inside diamonds came from marine seawater, but couldn’t be tested,” says lead author Michael Förster from the Technische Universität Berlin.

“Our research showed that they came from marine sediment.”

The word ‘diamond’ is derived from the Greek term ‘adamas’, which means ‘unconquerable’. The name is a reference to the material’s hardness, but it could just as easily describe the gemstone’s birthplace.

Apart from the ones that have arrived here from space, most diamonds are formed in very old parts of Earth’s mantle, a layer that makes up over 80 percent of the planet’s total volume and yet has never been visited by humankind.

By comparison, the thin slice of crust we currently live on makes up only one percent of the planet’s volume. But that crust is still some 35 kilometres deep, so it’s been tricky for us to study Earth’s mantle directly.

Just this week, a decade-long drilling mission to observe these mysterious depths was shut down after “a continuous six-month nightmare” in which the hole kept collapsing.

Without access to the mantle, the true formation of diamonds has remained an unanswered question for many years. An international team of geoscientists, led by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia, have now made an effort to settle the debate from the comfort of Earth’s surface.

By recreating the extreme pressures and temperatures found 200 kilometres (124 miles) underground, the team has demonstrated that seawater in ocean floor sediment can absolutely produce the balance of salty fluids commonly found in diamond.

Today, most diamonds we see in shops or on fingers appear crystal clear, and are valued for this quality. But ‘fibrous diamonds’ also exist – these form so quickly, they accidentally trap traces of sodium, potassium, and other minerals. These inclusions give them a cloudy appearance, but that impurity also allows us a clear window into their past.

The team tested the formation of salty diamonds by placing marine sediment samples inside a sealed vessel, along with a common type of mantle rock called peridotite. Turning up the pressure and heat, they tested how different conditions in parts of the mantle might affect these salty fluids.

The most diamond-like balance of sodium and potassium occurred at temperatures between 800°C and 1,100°C, pressures between four and six gigapascals, and depths between 120 and 180 kilometres below Earth’s surface.

“If ‘most diamonds were created equal’, then it would follow that the reaction between sedimentary rocks and peridotite during subduction is a main mechanism for the formation of lithospheric diamonds and mantle carbonates,” the authors conclude.

For diamonds like this to form, they explain, conditions have to be just so. A large slab of sea floor, for instance, would have to slip down more than 200 kilometres; this tectonic sliding, known as subduction, would have to occur quite rapidly.

Before this giant slab arrives at the 800°C upper mantle and begins to melt, it must compress by more than 40,000 times our planet’s atmospheric pressure. Otherwise, no diamond is born.

During this process, salty fluids from ancient marine environments are also slipping down into the lower mantle and interacting with peridotites, producing chlorides as a result. Later, these melt and form diamond-bearing volcanic rocks called kimberlites, which eventually erupt onto Earth’s surface for us to find and cherish.

“We demonstrated that the processes that lead to diamond growth are driven by the recycling of oceanic sediments in subduction zones,” says Förster.

In other words, that diamond in your jewellery box has seen more of the planet than we humans could ever hope. It is, in essence, hundreds of millions of years of deep-sea history, compressed into a tiny, beautiful gem.

The research is published in Science Advances.