One of the major goals of alchemy was to create gold from other, less expensive materials. Now it appears that if alchemists of old could have harnessed the power of the Earth, they might have been successful.
A new study has shown that earthquakes can play a role in turning water into gold. Sort of.
The study, published in this week's Nature Geoscience, shows that earthquakes can cause gold deposits to form almost instantaneously. The effect is caused by the vaporization of liquids during an earthquake.
Researchers used a thermo-mechanical piston model to simulate the effects of earthquakes, where fluid-filled cavities in the earth can often expand. This expansion lowers the pressure within the cavity, causing the fluid to expand rapidly and vaporize. Gold contained within the liquid is then deposited in small amounts. Subsequent earthquakes would also deposit gold, turning a small deposit into a significant one.
The process also deposits silica, which helps to explain why gold deposits can be found mixed with quartz deposits. It could also explain why many gold deposits can be found near old fault lines.
Though the idea of pressure differentiation causing mineral deposits is not a new one, the extent to which it is responsible for those deposits is debated in geological circles. This new study demonstrates that extreme conditions within the Earth's crust could build up sizable gold deposits in well under one million years.