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When and how did the Alps turn into dolomite?

New Marie-Curie research fellow searches for traces of dolomite that formed in the tropical seas of the Triassic

Large parts of the sedimentary rocks in the eastern Alps in Austria and northern Italy do not consist of plain limestone, but of a Mg-rich limestone called dolomite. How the transition from limestone to dolomite occurred, or whether these rocks were already deposited as dolomite ca. 200 to 250 million years ago is still not understood.

The new research fellow Patrick Meister has now picked up on this longstanding question in a project funded by the FP7 IEF Marie-Curie Programme of the European Commission. Not an easy task considering that geologists have controversially discussed the formation of dolomite for more than 200 years. Meister has previously studied dolomite formation in modern environments, such as the alkaline Deep Springs Lake in California. As some of these modern dolomites spontaneously precipitate from supersaturated water, Meister believes that a similar process could have occurred in warm tropical seas during the Triassic. New geochemical methods available at the Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology will be applied to better reconstruct the ancient water chemistry, which is essential if we want to understand what turned the Alps into dolomite.

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University of Vienna

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