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Visualize the abundance of elements in the earth’s crust
The elements of the earth’s crust provide all the basic elements of humanity.
But even though the crust is the source of everything we find, mine, refine and build, it only scratches the surface of our planet.
After all, the deepest layer of the Earth, the core, represents 15% of the volume of the planet, while the mantle occupies 84%. representing the rest 1% is the crust, a thin layer that varies in depth from about 5 to 70 km (~3 to 44 miles).
This infographic looks at what makes up that 1%, based on data from WorldAtlas.
Elements of the earth’s crust
The crust is a rigid surface containing both oceans and landmasses. Most elements are found only in minute quantities in the earth’s crust, but several are abundant.
The earth’s crust consists of approximately 95% igneous and metamorphic rocks, 4% shale, 0.75% sandstone and 0.25% limestone.
Oxygen, silicon, aluminum and iron represent 88.1% of the mass of the earth’s crust, while 90 other elements make up the rest 11.9%.
|Rank||Element||% of earth’s crust|
While gold, silver, copper and other base and precious metals are among the most sought-after elements, they together account for less than 0.03% of the Earth’s crust en masse.
Oxygen is by far the most abundant element in the earth’s crust, constituting 46% mass-coming just short of half the total.
Oxygen is a highly reactive element that combines with other elements, forming oxides. Some examples of common oxides are minerals such as granite and quartz (silicon oxides), rust (iron oxides), and limestone (calcium and carbon oxide).
Over 90% of the earth’s crust is made up of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the earth’s crust.
Silicon bonds with oxygen to form the most common minerals on Earth. For example, in most places, the sand consists mainly of silica (silicon dioxide) usually in the form of quartz. Silicon is an essential semiconductor, used in the manufacture of electronic components and computer chips.
Aluminum is the third most common element in the earth’s crust.
Due to its strong affinity for oxygen, aluminum is rarely found in the elemental state. Aluminum oxide (Al2O3), aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3) and potassium aluminum sulfate (KAl(SO4)2) are common aluminum compounds.
Aluminum and aluminum alloys have a variety of uses, from kitchen foil to rocket manufacturing.
The fourth most common element in the earth’s crust is iron, which accounts for more than 5% of the mass of the earth’s crust.
Iron is obtained mainly from the minerals hematite and magnetite. Of all the metals we mine, more 90% is iron, primarily for making steel, an alloy of carbon and iron. Iron is also an essential nutrient in the human body.
Calcium accounts for approximately 4.2% of the earth’s crust by weight.
In its pure elemental state, calcium is a soft, silvery-white alkaline earth metal. It is never found in an isolated state in nature but rather exists in compounds. Calcium compounds can be found in a variety of minerals, including limestone (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulfate), and fluorite (calcium fluoride).
Calcium compounds are widely used in the food and pharmaceutical industries for supplementation. They are also used as bleaching agents in the paper industry, as components in cement and electrical insulators, and in the manufacture of soaps.
Digging the earth’s crust
Despite Jules Verne’s novel, no one has ever traveled to the center of the Earth.
In fact, the deepest hole ever dug by mankind reaches approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) below the Earth’s surface, about a third of the way down to Earth’s mantle. It took about 20 years to reach this incredible depth.
Although humanity is constantly making new discoveries and searching for the stars, there is still much to explore on the Earth we find ourselves on.