Scientists Say Earth Was Barren, Mountainless, and Mostly Under Water

Dr. Antony Burnham from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences with a sample of zircon under the microscope. (Image: Stuart Hay, ANU)
Dr. Antony Burnham from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences with a sample of zircon under the microscope. (Image: Stuart Hay, ANU)

ANU scientists say the early Earth was likely barren, mountainless, and almost entirely under water with a few small islands, following their analysis of tiny mineral grains as old as 4.4 billion years.

Lead researcher Dr. Antony Burnham said the team studied zircon mineral grains that were preserved in sandstone rocks in the Jack Hills of Western Australia, and which were the oldest fragments of the Earth ever found. Dr. Burnham from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences said in a statement:

Zircon crystals as old as 4.4 billion years were found in sandstone at Jack Hills of Western Australia. Credit: Stuart Hay, ANU Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-05-earth-barren-flat-billion-years.html#jCp

Zircon crystals as old as 4.4 billion years were found in sandstone at Jack Hills of Western Australia. (Image: Stuart Hay, ANU)

Dr. Burnham said the zircon grains that eroded out of the oldest rocks were like skin cells found at a crime scene:

The first known form of life emerged some time later, around 3.8 billion years ago. Dr. Burnham said the zircon formed by melting older igneous rocks rather than sediments, saying:

Dr. Burnham said scientists in the field were able to build on each other’s work to gain a better understanding of early Earth,

The study, ‘Formation of Hadean granites by melting of igneous crust’, is published in Nature Geoscience.

Provided by: The Australian National University

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