GMPV 2020/2021 Robert Wilhelm Bunsen Medal Lectures & 2021 Division Outstanding ECS Award Lecture
Convener: Marian Holness
| Mon, 19 Apr, 15:00–17:00 (CEST)

Session assets

Session materials

Presentations: Mon, 19 Apr

Chairperson: Marian Holness
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen Medal Lecture 2020
Holly Stein

Re and Os (rhenium and osmium) are chalcophile-siderophile elements (transition metals) with a unique position in isotope geochemistry.  Unlike other commonly used decay schemes for radiometric dating, these metals take residency in resource-related media, for example, sulfide minerals, the organic component in black shales, coals, and bitumens and oils.  In sum, the reducing environment is their haven whereas under oxidizing conditions, Re and Os become unmoored and the radiometric clock becomes compromised.  The clock is not temperature sensitive, and its applicability spans Early Archean to Pleistocene. 

This Bunsen Medal lecture will explore and review the challenges in bringing Re-Os from the meteorite-mantle community into the crustal environment.  At the center of it all is our ability to turn geologic observation into a thoughtful sampling strategy.  The potential to date ore deposits was an obvious application and molybdenite [Mo(Re)S2], rarely with significant common Os and rarely with overgrowths, became an overnight superstar, yielding highly precise, accurate, and reproducible ages.  Yet, molybdenite presented our first sampling challenge with recognition of a puzzling parent-daughter (187Re-187Os) decoupling in certain occurrences.  A strategic sampling procedure was employed.  From there, the diversity of applications spread, as molybdenite is also an accessory mineral in many granitoids, and can be a common trace sulfide in metamorphic rocks.  Whether conformable with and/or crosscutting foliation, molybdenite ages define the timing of deformational events.  Pyrite and arsenopyrite can also be readily dated. 

Applications jumped from sulfides to organic matter.  The hydrogenous component from organic matter in black shales gives us Re-Os ages in the sedimentary record for the Geologic Time Scale.  This led to construction of an Os isotope seawater curve – an ongoing process.  Unlike the well-known Sr seawater curve, the short residence time of Os in the oceans creates a high-definition time record with unambiguous high-amplitude swings in 187Os/188Os.  Re-Os puts time pins into the biostratigraphic record, and we have even directly dated fossils.  Re-Os opened the door for a new generation of paleoclimate studies to evaluate seawater conditions at the time of organic blooms and organic sequestration in bottom mud.  Uplift and continental erosion can be balanced with hydrothermal input into oceans based on changes in the Os isotope composition of seawater.  The timing and connectivity of opening seaways can be determined, and the timing of glaciation and deglaciation events can be globally correlated.  The timing and instigators of mass extinctions are carried in the Re-Os record.  A major meteorite impact places an enormous scar in the Os isotope record as seawater drops toward mantle values but recovers in just a few thousand years.  Most recently, Re-Os has transformed our understanding of the events and fluids involved in construction of whole petroleum systems. 

Looking to the future, what kinds of data sets will be explored and what are the interdisciplinary skill sets needed to interpret those data?  Re-Os will continue to provide us with new ways to dismantle geologic media for new scientific understanding of processes that have shaped our lithosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere, recording their intersection and exchange. 

How to cite: Stein, H.: How Two Unassuming Elements, Re and Os, Assumed Acclaim in the Geosciences, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13563,, 2021.

GMPV Division Outstanding ECS Award Lecture 2021
Michael Jollands

Understanding rates and mechanisms of diffusion in geologically relevant materials is important when considering, for example, electrical conductivity, rheology and, of course, diffusion chronometry. Olivine has received much attention in this regard – not only is it important in upper mantle and many volcanic settings, but its wide range of stability in pressure-temperature-chemical activity space makes it extremely amenable to experimental petrology. Furthermore, olivine is simple enough to study systematically, but contains different crystallographic sites, diffusion pathways and is anisotropic, thus has sufficient complexity to remain interesting. Like many common rock-forming minerals, olivine is nominally anhydrous, but normally contains trace amounts of hydrogen. This is generally bonded to structural oxygen, forming hydroxyl groups. These can be easily imaged by infrared spectroscopy, which simultaneously elucidates both their concentration and associated point defect chemistry.

The combination of a mineral that is quite straightforward to study experimentally, and the ability to distinguish between different H substitution mechanisms, a major strength of infrared spectroscopy, has proved to be hugely useful. However, the more we know, the more complex the system seems to become. For example, firstly, small changes in the major element composition of olivine were shown to have considerable effects on H diffusion. Secondly, close inspection of infrared spectra from experiments and natural samples revealed the presence of point defects that, according to the generally invoked theory, should not be there. Thirdly, small variations in experimental design between different studies apparently led to major discrepancies in results, even if the experiments were designed to measure ostensibly the same process. Fourthly, apparent diffusivities extracted from well-constrained natural samples showed results in complete disagreement with experiments in the same system.

On the one hand, these complexities have the potential to severely limit the accuracy of diffusion chronometry using H diffusion. On the other hand, complexity is opportunity. Given the wealth of published studies, both experimental and natural, and given that H-bearing point defects in olivine can be easily distinguished, we are presented with a unique possibility to truly unravel the diffusive behaviour of H in olivine. Recently developed theories suggest that treating H mobility as diffusion alone is insufficient (even if multiple diffusion mechanisms are invoked), and instead it is necessary to consider the way in which different H-bearing point defects interact within the crystal. A model describing this process in both pure and trace element-doped forsterite will be presented, which reconciles, to some extent, these previous discrepancies. The model suggests that the true mobility of H is one to two orders of magnitude higher than that which has been directly measured when assuming simple diffusion. Work is in progress to expand the model towards crystals with chemistries relevant for nature. If a similar model can be invoked for natural olivine, then this will require that models of processes invoking H diffusion (e.g. rheology, diffusion chronometry, electrical conductivity) will need to be reevaluated.

How to cite: Jollands, M.: Hydrogen diffusion in olivine: challenges and opportunities, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-1602,, 2021.

Robert Wilhelm Bunsen Medal Lecture 2021
Urs Schaltegger

Geoscientists tend to subdivide the system Earth into different subsystems (geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere), which are interacting with each other in a non-linear way. The quantitative understanding of this interaction is essential to make reconstructions of the geological past. This is mostly done by a linear approach of establishing time-series of chemical and physical proxies, calibrating their contemporaneity through geochronology, and eventually invoke causality. A good example is the comparison of carbon or oxygen isotope time series to the paleo-biodiversity in ancient sedimentary sections, temporally correlated using astrochronology or high-precision U-Pb dating of volcanic zircon in interlayered ash beds. While highly accurate and precise data are necessary to form the basis for linear and non-linear models, we have to be aware that any analysis is the result of an experiment – an isotope-chemical analysis in the U-Pb example - introducing random and non-random noise, which can mimic, disturb, distort or mask non-linear system behavior. High-precision/high-accuracy U-Pb age determination using the mineral zircon (ZrSiO4) and application of the techniques of isotope dilution, thermal ionization mass spectrometry is a good example of such an experiment we apply to the geological history of our planet.

Two examples where precise U-Pb dating methods are used to link disparate processes are (1) using the duration and the tempo of zircon growth in a magmatic system as a measure for modeling magma flux in space and time, and apply these to infer potential eruptibility and volcanic hazard of a plutonic-volcanic plumbing system; (2) establish absolute age and duration of magma emplacement in large igneous provinces, feed these data into models of volatile injection into and residence of volatile species in the atmosphere, estimate their influence on the inherent parameters of Earth’s climate, and infer causality with climatic, environmental and biotic crises. Both of these are outstanding scientific questions that attract and deserve significant attention by a general as well as academic public. However, insufficient attention is drawn onto the questions of the nature and importance of the noise we add through isotopic age determination.

There are two prominent issues to be discussed in this context, (1) to what extent (at what precision) can we distinguish natural age variation among zircon grains from random scatter produced by analytical techniques and the complexity of the U-Pb isotopic system in zircon, and (2) how can we correlate the U-Pb dates established for crystallization of zircon in residual and/or assimilated melt portions of mafic magmatic rocks from large igneous provinces to the release and injection of magmatic and contact-metamorphic volatiles into the atmosphere? This contribution intends to demonstrate that analytical scatter and complex system behavior are often confounded with age variation (and vice versa) and will outline new approaches and insights how to quantify their respective contributions.

How to cite: Schaltegger, U.: Geochronology - a suitable tool to discern causality from temporal coincidence?, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-896,, 2021.