Professor Sara Mana of the geological sciences department at Salem State University has published an article in Lithos, titled, “High-pressure serpentinization and abiotic methane formation in metaperidotite from the Appalachian subduction, northern Vermont.”
For Mana, the research began as a side project, with her colleague and long-time friend, Dr. Alberto Vitale Brovarone. The two traveled to the Belvidere Mountain range in Vermont in 2018 working in an abandoned asbestos mine. “It was daunting. I’ve never seen so much asbestos in my life,” Mana said.
The state of the mine made the project difficult, as the researchers had to have airways protection while gathering samples and data. Still, the research produced surprising and interesting results.
The pair found high-pressure serpentinization (the metamorphic processes of rocks changing due to heat/pressure, which causes the minerals to become unstable and new rocks to form as the minerals that make them up change) at the subduction site. The article explains how serpentinization can produce minerals such as serpentine, brucite and magnetite, and is commonly accompanied by iron oxidation and the release of water, which can be “involved in abiotic reaction pathways leading to the genesis of abiotic light hydrocarbons such as methane.” This process usually takes place at the sea floor.
However, what makes this discovery interesting is that this is “the first time that methane has been connected to or found in subduction.” This offers a lot of potential for future studies especially in helping researchers understand the carbon cycle better, particularly how it relates to long term natural pathways to store carbon and its implications to climate change.
Mana says Dr. Brovarone worked with PhD student Antione Boutier on analyzing the data results and writing up the article, however, she feels that they have only really begun to scratch the surface. Mana hopes to return to the mine with Brovarone in the next year or so to continue their research, but due to Covid, the field component of this project has had to be put on hold.
Still, this is not the only project taking Mana’s attention. Her main research focuses on active continental rifting and particularly the East African Rift. She is currently the Principal Investigator of a project called “East African Rift Tephra Database [EARThD],” which seeks to compile a comprehensive tephra database by documenting explosive volcanism in East Africa making the data discoverable and easily accessible by all.
Mana is working on the project in collaboration with Professor Erin DiMaggio from Penn State University. The pair received a coveted National Science Foundation (NSF) award for their project, and Mana says, “to date, I have been able to hire and train six SSU undergraduate students as part of this project”. Recently, Professor Mana was granted an extension and funding supplement by NSF to continue this endeavor, which serves as proof of the value and good progress of the work that has been accomplished over the past three years.
Another collaboration, and the biggest one Mana is currently a part of, is the “Turkana Miocene Project”: a National Science Foundation EAR FRES-Frontier Research in Earth Sciences interdisciplinary project. The project received a $2,671,455 grant to conduct research related to “the influence of climate and tectonics on Miocene ecosystems and faunal evolution in the East African Rift, Kenya.”
Mana's involvement in this project is to work as an external collaborator, looking at the age and geochemical characterization of Miocene volcanics. The project will fund Mana to travel to Kenya for two consecutive summers, and there will be opportunities for student research involvement.
The venture is a collaborative research project involving (in alphabetical order): Appalachian State University; Case Western Reserve University; Hamilton College; Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University; Mercer University; National Museums of Kenya; NASA; Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; Rutgers University; Salem State University; Stony Brook University; SUNY Potsdam; University of Arkansas; University of Helsinki; University of Michigan; and Wake Forest University.
With such a busy schedule and teaching responsibilities on top of everything else, Mana says the summer is the time when she does the most of her research, and she is taking advantage of the few weeks left before the semester starts.
Congratulations Professor Mana on all your accomplishments!
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