Terra Infirma: What has salt tectonics ever done for us?

Folded salt in a Sicilian mine

Folded salt in a Sicilian mine

Our London Lecture series ended on a high last year with Imperial College’s Chis Jackson explaining why we should all be halophiles. For those who missed out, it’s now available to watch again on our YouTube channel. Or you can listen to our podcast with Chris on why he thinks salt is the greatest of all rocks:

Says Chris:

“Salt is ubiquitous. It appears on dining tables around the world. Food manufacturers sneak it into our food…and then we get told off by the Department of Health for eating too much of it!

Giant ancient salt structures buried offshore Brazil

Giant ancient salt structures buried offshore Brazil

In this talk I will demonstrate that salt is not simply for sprinkling liberally on fish ‘n’ chips or for de-icing roads. I will demonstrate that salt is a unique and grossly underappreciated rock type, living in the dark, dank shadows of its more glamorous carbonate, sandstone and mudstone neighbours.

I think this lack of recognition is unfair. Salt has been at the centre of the global expansive of mankind, acting as the key ingredient in the preservation of food. Furthermore, salt is unusual in that, one minute, it sits still like any good rock but then, having turned your back for a moment, flows like a fluid.

Salt miners in Ethiopia

Salt miners in Ethiopia

This strange behaviour can occur both on the Earth’s surface and also kilometres below ground. With a few exceptions, carbonates and clastics can’t do that. They just sit there. Like well-behaved rocks should. Salts ability to flow leads to it forming some of the most complex and beautiful geological structures observed on the Earth.

From an applied perspective, salt is one of the economically most important rock types on Earth, forming the seals to super-giant hydrocarbon accumulations in every corner of the globe. In this talk I will celebrate salt and, in short, in the course of 45 minutes, I will try and convert the audience to ‘halophiles’ (a.k.a. ‘salt worshipers’). But remember, too much salt can be bad for your health…”

Further Reading:

Hudec, M.R., and Jackson, M. P. A., 2007, Terra infirma: Understanding salt tectonics: Earth Science Reviews, v. 82, p. 1–28.

Kurlansky, M., 2003, Salt: A World History. Penguin Books, pp498.,9171,925341-2,00.html

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