Sputtering Canyons, Part 1

Also published at Thunderbolts.info

In summer of 2016, following the EU Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, EU Geology researchers visited Arches National Monument, and the deep reaches of Canyonlands, Utah, where the Green and Colorado Rivers channel through the Colorado Plateau.

Arches National Monument is an astonishing place for anyone interested in EU Geology. By conventional reckoning, the high desert plateau was carved into fantastical arches and hoodoos after millions of years of subtle water and wind erosion. To the EU researchers, however, it was evident the land was zapped, carved and seared by electrical storms that could have happened last year, so fresh looked the marks of evidence.

The Arches’ formation tells a story which explains one of the key phenomena that shaped the face of the planet. The phenomena is called sputtering discharge. So let’s take a look at what that is.

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Arches National Monument, Utah

Sputtering discharge, as used in manufacturing, is a dark, to glow-mode current in plasma used to deposit thin films of material onto a substrate surface. It’s analogous to electroplating, or galvanic reaction in a fluid.

An electric field accelerates positive ions in plasma to collide with a source material, which breaks molecular bonds, eroding the source material. This is what the term “sputter” refers to –  the breaking away of particles which then drift in an electric field to coat the substrate. The source material is the cathode, and the substrate is the anode in the circuit. The material exchange is performed by electricity. Manufacturers often use magnetrons to shape and control the current, and improve material transport efficiency with external magnetic fields.

The point to be made, however, is that high voltage, low current in a plasma will erode, or etch away a cathodic surface and plate itself in layers on the anode. This is the process that shaped Canyonlands.

To fully understand these canyons, however, we must first understand domes, because the canyons are carved from a dome. The entire Colorado Plateau is a dome – or rather, a series of domes overlaying each other. The domes are composed of sedimentary layers of limestone and sandstone. The layers are stacked for the most part evenly and flat, like a layer cake.

This basic layer cake structure is capped with the Rocky Mountains on the East and carved into canyons on the West, while shot through with the Lichtenberg patterned, vertically cut gorges of the Colorado and Green Rivers.

The dome structure of the plateau, and the canyons carved through it, is primarily the result of a natural sputtering discharge process created during intense electrical storms. Of course, in this case, we are speaking about storms created in a past environment, when Earth’s electric field was amplified to the point the atmosphere ionized.

Imagine the atmosphere stirred into a maelstrom lit with streamers of glowing plasma. Where lightning crackled, not only in the sky, but across the land, and mountain tops glowed with coronal fire under swirling clouds of dusty plasma.

It would have been surreal. A place where streams of wind became electric currents. Where high and low pressure zones acted like battery terminals, and mountain tops became electrodes drawing machine gun lightning from the sky. Anything standing in the wind would have hissed and snapped with coronal fire.

Dust in the air would have acted strange, too, as the energy of free electrons collided and overpowered weaker atomic bonds, ionizing matter, causing it to act like a ferro-fluid under the influence of a magnet. Ionic species segregated, forming unipolar winds that tore past each other in opposite directions, creating shear zones of intense electrical discharge, and vortex winds of supersonic speed.

The inside of Earth would have been in turmoil as well. Hot magmas spewing from volcanic vents. Aquifers boiling. Explosive eruptions of steam from deep underground, pocking the landscape with holes. Even arcs would erupt – lightning from the ground – caused by buried pockets of charge where minerals and water ionized.

The winds, dust laden and electric, deposited the Colorado Plateau, plating a cake across the western half of North America in the same way semiconductor manufacturers layer circuitry onto silica wafers. The stratified layers are interspersed with magma flows, petrified forests, inland seas and dinosaur bone-yards of different ages that indicate it formed in a series of events that likely recurred over millions of years.

To create the Canyondlands, the voltage potential had to reverse, and eat away at landscape newly laid down by the storm. Under the electric field of an electrical storm, the surface of the earth becomes positively charged. It becomes the anode in the circuit where lightning strikes from the negative cloud base, and where rain falls. In primordial ionic storms like those that formed the plateau, rain didn’t fall, but silica did, as dust in the air fell and adhered in layers to the dome.

Inland seas, or layers washed over by tsunami generated by the storm itself, became covered over with more layers of dry overburden as the storm progressed. This left a moist layer, like icing in the center of the layer cake. This icing layer then ionized under intense bombardment from sputtering discharge in the eye of the storm, and created what is known as a barrier discharge in the moist layer beneath the ground.

Which brings us to Arches National Monument, proof that the canyons were carved by sputtering discharge, aided by barrier discharge, in a moist layer of the big cake.

This image tells most of the story. A band of rock that looks tortured and fluid, as if it were boiled mud when it solidified, sandwiched between smooth, more-or-less even layers of stone. The canyon floor is flat, which is surprising, if one accepts the consensus view that the canyons were made by water erosion. Water erosion leaves deep channels and vee-cut valleys, not flat floors.

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‘Boiled Mud’ layer in Arches National Monument. The undulating bottom of the ‘boiled mud’, strata may be indication of tufting typical in plasma discharge.

This closer image (below) shows the fluidity of the layers. The overburden rock barely sinks into the sagging layer that turned plastic beneath it, because it was still solid. The plastic layer sagged, but didn’t compress, maintaining a consistent thickness. But on the bottom, the ‘boiled mud’ layer fluidized and squeezed like toothpaste.

What turned this layer fluid, and caused it to sag beneath a solid overburden, was electrical current. A barrier discharge current, where no gaseous atmosphere was present to ionize into plasma, but instead, the moisture and mineral in the layer ionized, generating a subsurface current.

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Fluidity in the ‘boiled mud’ layer.

The moist layer ionized and charged species pooled into a plasma-like mud the electric field wanted to lift away. The electric currents boiled the moist layer and it began to foam and arc into the drier and electrically resistant overburden. When sputtering removed the surrounding overburden, pressure released and vapors expanded, making gas bubbles that raised the arches. Hardened pinnacles formed where mud boiled up in convective blossoms of hot ionization.

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The arches rise from the ‘boiled mud’ layer.
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Bulbous nodules rise from the ‘boiled mud’ layer like bubbles of foam.
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Beneath the ‘boiled mud’ layer, strata returns to evenly structured layers.
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A yawning arch rising from ‘boiled mud’ due to gas bubbles. The small hole to left is flattened against the hard overburden, as a bubble would, pressing up against a barrier.

One can see how the moist layer boiled and heaved, while currents arched and thrust upward, trying to break through the overburden rock. But in this area, it was unsuccessful. The traces of barrier discharge remain in the rock.  The empty, flat canyon floor, where the overburden and moist layer were carried away is where the discharge broke through to complete the circuit.

Arches is a display of etching, or Electric Discharge Machining (EDM) stopped in process. The wet layer was boiling off due to the current in it, and lifting away with the overburden when the process stopped, leaving these arches and hoodoos. It likely stopped when the sputtering glow current suddenly jumped to arc mode, and lightning struck, dissipating the charge built-up in the wet, ‘boiled mud’ layer.

Sputtering discharge is typically used in manufacturing to remove only micro-meters of material. The ion bombardment on the surface of cathode material only shallowly penetrates to break atomic, or molecular bonds and release particles. So how could such a process remove hundreds of feet of solid sandstone?

One reason is the strength of the electric field at work on the charged species. In the primordial storm we are discussing, the electric field would have been many billions, perhaps trillions of volts. The electromotive force of such a field applied to any large pool of charged species could lift a mountain.

The other reason is diffusion of charge through a thousand feet of dry, sandstone overburden, to ionize the wet layer. The section of the dome overlaying the wet layer acted as a solid state semiconductor, coherent with the intense electric field. Charge diffused through the silica layers in a manner to be discussed in more detail in Part Two of this article.

The wet, ionized layer then underwent a process called heat spike sputtering. Heat spike sputtering occurs when diffusing ionization causes secondary reactions. The secondary reactions occur in the wet layer, which is highly conductive and volatile. Currents heated the material and caused thermal liquifaction, melting and steam micro-explosions.

In Canyonlands, the wet layer ionized, inducing currents which heat spiked, discharging from the wet layer to the layer above. The arches and bubble-like pinnacles in Arches N.M. were created by heat spike sputtering and bubbles from micro-explosions as the ‘boiled mud’ layer ionized, vaporized, and discharged into the overburden.

This short film produced by diveflyfish on YouTube helps visualize the process of diffusion through rock and barrier discharge that caused the ‘boiled mud’ layer to boil. In it, Jim Hamman, the creator of diveflyfish, and an EU contributor, employs a high voltage Tesla circuit to generate current through a granite block. There are two things to note as you watch the film.

First, note how the flow of electricity diffuses through the entire granite block. Instead of channeling directly below the electrode in a narrow stream, it flows out the full footprint of the crystalline granite block. The external electric field of the circuit is diffusing charge through the granite as in a solid-state body.

In the tense electric field surrounding the eye of the hyper-storm that etched the canyons, currents also diffused through the dome matrix in this way, ultimately ripping out mountains of earth in the blink of an eye as currents boiled and liquified the wet matrix below, similar to the plasma tornadoes swirling in the gaps between the electrodes and the granite.

Second, note the plasma tornadoes that bridge the gap between the block and electrode. They are not in bright arc mode, but are filaments in glow mode. The plasma tornado currents are in the air gap, where the air has ionized to plasma. In the Arches, there was no air gap between the ionizing wet layer and the overburden, so the discharge was a barrier discharge coming from the ‘boiled mud’ layer. The currents flowed around the boiling, bubbling, foaming heat spikes to fuse and harden the less conductive overburden in it’s pattern of arches and pinnacles.

Jim’s experiment was intended to look for piezoelectric amplification of the current, but isn’t instrumented to acquire a measurement in this video. It does however demonstrate diffusion of current through granite, which demonstrates how ground currents can diffuse in natural rock. Towards the end of the clip, arcing begins where hot spots begin to eat through the granite, collecting the current into a single path, and starving the diffusion currents.

There are many other evidences of sputtering discharge in the Utah Canyonlands. In part 2 of Sputtering Canyons, we’ll examine some more.

Thank you.

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