Scientists unravel mystery of missing mineral

Published: Dec 12, 2011, 13:59 IST | Agencies

Scientists have stumbled upon a cache of dolomite in coral reefs, ending a 100-year quest for the missing mineral

Scientists have stumbled upon a cache of dolomite in coral reefs, ending a 100-year quest for the missing mineral.

"For over a century, scientists have puzzled over the 'dolomite problem' -- the mystery surrounding the abundance of dolomite in fossil reefs and its apparent absence from modern reefs," said Bradley Opdyke, who led the discovery.

"We have discovered that dolomite is in fact present in large quantities in modern coral reefs, but from an unexpected source," said Opdyke of the Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University.

"The discovery was completely serendipitous -- we were working on an unrelated question at the time," said Opdyke, the journal Biogeosciences reports.

"When we confirmed the finding, I said to Marinda (Nash) [member of the research team], 'This is going to be huge. It opens up a kaleidoscope of future research topics'," said Opdyke.

The team's eureka moment came when they found large quantities of dolomite packed inside a 'reef builder' species of red algae, Hydrolithon onkodes, according to Earth Sciences statement.

"There was dolomite on the reefs all along, but it was hidden within these algae. This species... is found in abundance on reefs around the world," said Opdyke.

"The algae work with coral to 'cement' the reef structure to withstand the tremendous hydraulic pressure of waves. This is the first discovery of dolomite associated with a living organism," he added.

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