Monday, December 06, 2004

Uranium--source of oil?

I saw recently (I think in the San Jose Mercury News) that a "maverick" geologist is doing some experiemnts to determine if the core of the earth is made of uranium. Not being a geologist, this seems logical, as the heaviest things float to the bottom--everything below the crust of the earth is liquid, and the center of the earth is "the bottom" and uranium is the heaviest element. Seems logical.
However, as with most erroneous memes in science, people have long thought that the earth's core was made of iron--at least that's what I recall from high school science class. I'd bet that assumption arose from the observation that the earth has a magnetic field. Never mind that spinning conductors also generate magnetic fields, and that the earth is spinning and that molten lava is probably a decent conductor too.
I guess the maveric theory claims that the uranium at the core is reacting in a fission proces that doesn't reach enough critical mass to blow the earth to bits, but instead works like most of our existing nuclear reactors--it heats the surrounding liquid--we obsere this every once in a while when a volcano blows.
If this theory is true, that means that there are lots of atomic particles flying out of this process at the core of the earth. Namely, lots of hydrogen and helium are getting produced. Has anyone every asked why we still even have helium floating around after several billions of years? You'd have figured it would have all floaated into space by now, unless it was being continuously generated.
What's interesting to contemplate is the process of how the hydrogen and helium make it from the core through the crust (they are light, and float to the top. There's lots of pressure down there, so the light gasses get forced through the crust.
As hot hydrogen gets forced through the crust, it will react with things--hydrogen is quite reactive. What happens when high pressure, hot hydrogen encounters organic deposits deep in the crust from eons past? It makes hydrocarbons. Oil is made of hyrocarbons. Petroleum engineers have often been puzzled by wells that continue to produce oil decades longer than was originally estimated. It's as if the oil were being "generated" from somewhere. I'm guessing that the hydrogen from the core is the source of this generation process.
We've been stuck thinking forever that the sun is the only source of continuous energy for our planet. What if we've also got a nuclear reactor in the core as well? If so, those oil wells are not really depleting assets, but may actually be growing their production.

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