The curious olivine crystal: between destruction and human drama, scientists continue to find "jewels" hidden under the volcano on La Palma


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Javier Jimenez @dronte

A few days ago, the Volcanic Institute of the Canary Islands published a photograph that caught the attention of the whole world. In it you could see olivine crystal in a volcanic rock that had recently been expelled by the La Palma volcano. At first, the news was received with great interest, because the presence of this type of crystal usually goes hand in hand with the last eruptive phases. However, that happens when they make up a much higher percentage of the lava: we're not there yet.

And yet, the image is powerfully striking: although olivine is the main component of the planet's upper mantle, it is relatively rare on the surface. Therefore, it is considered a semi-precious stone and has important uses in jewelry (when it is well formed). Materials such as clinopyroxene with apatite needles, Fe-Ti oxides, magmatic inclusions and fluids have also appeared. Almost two months after it all started, one cannot help but wonder: What other scientific 'treasures' does a geological drama hide?

The Treasures of the Volcano

Specifically, when we talk about olivine, we talk about a group of minerals within the nesosilicates (within the silicates). These minerals "constitute mainly mafic and ultramafic igneous rocks"; and, although their colors depend on the minerals with which they are enriched, the most common color is light green. Hence its regular use in different industries other than jewelry: metallurgy, construction and agriculture.

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"Sometimes small volcanoes produce giant ones, like this olivine crystal from the most recent lavas." Although the Institute itself spoke in these terms, as it commented before, precisely because of its volcanic origin, the Canary Islands are one of those few places in the world where it can be found with some ease. The Lanzarote areas of Los Hervideros and Charco de los Clicos have traditionally had an abundance of these minerals. This makes Involcan's findings not particularly novel, but captivating: levers that help us hold on to the scientific fight against destruction.

Volcanoes are particularly complex phenomena in which destruction and life are associated in equal parts. In fact, the ramifications of that duality can even be seen in its social effects. Today on La Palma, stories of great altruism coexist with the most uninhibited speculation. But, without leaving the realm of nature, that particular "Yin and Yan" is much more complex to identify: the potential wonders of the volcano pale before its destructive force.

In this sense, the small pieces of scientific jewelry that Involcan brings us closer to us remind us of the knowledge that the eruption is generating. knowledge that does not make the drama of so many families invisible, but that allows us to look at the problem with perspective. After all, neither the volcanoes nor the canaries are going anywhere. Learning everything we can and learning it as soon as possible is the best contribution we can make to the future.

Image | they overturn

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