The power of serpentinite, California's state rock

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Groups of serpentinite rocks lay among grass and flowers on a hill

By Derek Brudahl
Marin Restoration and Volunteer Management Intern

California's state rock serpentine has two real powers: the ability to host rare and unique vegetation and its potential to help climate change. On the more spiritual side of things, this beautiful green rock is said to aid in wisdom and insight into past lives. However, this rock can be bad for your health due to the presence of asbestos, so think twice about including this in your crystal collection.

Serpentinite outcrops can form small isolated areas of soil chemistry due to the chemical composition of their soil. This causes local vegetation to have to evolve to the microclimates of the serpentine soil. Several of the Golden Gate National Parks' rare plants form in these kinds of soil, such as the Raven’s Manzanita. The Raven’s Manzanita has evolved to depend on serpentine-rich soils, and can only be found in the Bay Area. This plant is so rare, there is only one naturally occurring plant left at a hidden location in the Golden Gate National Parks. A young Boy Scout named Peter Raven found this plant while on a hike in 1952. Restoration efforts have been put in place to help protect this rare plant by propagation in local nurseries.

Serpentinite’s amazing powers can also benefit the health of our planet. Serpentinite can be used to heal the planet by reducing greenhouse gases in our atmosphere through carbon sequestration. According to the USGS, carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Therefore, this process reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has the potential to reverse climate change. Serpentinite sequesters carbon through natural weathering processes by reacting with rainwater. This is a naturally occurring geologic process and the product of these reactions is safe and will remain stable for millions of years. There are different methods being researched but sequestration through rock weathering has enormous potential and we should look forward to seeing the benefits of this stable and natural process.

Serpentinite is truly a gem in more ways than one. It is unique in its ability to sustain extremely rare vegetation and sequester carbon. These abilities keep rare plants alive such as the Raven’s Manzanita and have the potential to help heal the planet from climate change. Even though its soil only takes up 1 percent of the soil composition in California, it's still the state rock for a reason and will continue to be our "healing" rock!     

Sources: W.J.J. Huijgen & R.N.J. Comans, “Carbon Dioxide Sequestration by Mineral Carbonation” February 2003, p.9

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