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Ed Mathez

OLogy Series
ologist
card
256

Ed Mathez

OLogy Series
ologist

Ed Mathez has always been fascinated by rocks and the Earth. As a young boy, he went with his mother to old rock quarries to look for fossils and minerals. When he was 18, he visited spectacular mountains in Montana and wanted to know how they formed. Today, Ed is an Earth scientist. He studies rocks all round the world, from Greenland to South Africa to the bottom of the ocean!

Collecting Chimneys
Along mid-ocean ridges at the bottom of the ocean, tectonic plates are spreading apart. Volcanoes erupt constantly to create new seafloor. Here, the pressure is extreme and it is pitch-black. Surprisingly, a variety of animals, like the red-tipped tubeworm and the giant clam, call this place home. They live around deep sea vents. The vents form where cold water seeps through cracks down to the hot rocks and comes back up, carrying chemicals taken out of rocks. The chemicals serve as food for bacteria, and the bacteria as food for animals. Huge mineral structures called chimneys grow around some of the vents. In 1998, Ed Mathez and a team of scientists led an expedition to collect 4 chimneys from the Juan de Fuca Ridge, off the coast of Washington. The chimneys were about 2.5 km (1.5 mi) below the ocean's surface, so they used a remote-controlled vehicle driven from the ship. It was a success! Now, scientists can study the chimneys up close. These apartments for bacteria may help answer questions about how life began on Earth and how it could exist on other planets in similar extreme conditions.

Lately, Ed has been studying some of the oldest rocks on Earth, looking for evidence of early life. These rocks are found around:

the edge of Greenland

volcanoes in South Africa

deep sea vents

Are you right?

Correct!

Rocks found around deep sea vents and volcanoes are young compared to the 3.8-billion-year-old rocks in Greenland. (The Earth itself is only about 4.5 billion years old.) These rocks can be difficult to study, since they have been buried in the Earth and have changed forms several times.

It's easy for Ed to identify some rocks, like fine-grained lavas. But when Ed can't identify a rock with just his "naked eye," he uses:

a microscope

chemical tests

both

Are you right?

Correct!

These tools show geologists what they can't see with their eyes. Some of the toughest rocks to identify are metamorphic, since they've changed because of extreme heat and pressure.

Ed Mathez, Earth scientist

Rocks can tell you something about the history of an area, like how a mountain formed. They can also help answer questions about the Earth's history, like how it has changed over time.

Ed hopes that people can someday travel to the center of the Earth.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

It would be impossible to make this 6,000 km (3,700 m) journey! The center of the Earth is as hot as the surface of the Sun, and the pressure is so great it would crush us.

Name: Ed Mathez
Hometown: Nyack, New York
Education: Ph.D., University of Washington
Job: Curator, Earth & Planetary Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History
Cool fact: Ed was sailing near the Mount St. Helens volcano when it erupted, and he heard the explosion.

Image credits: courtesy of AMNH; Ed Mathez: courtesy of AMNH.