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A high concentration of hydrogen gas occurs in fracture zones of active faults that are associated with historical earthquakes. To explain the described phenomenon, we propose the piezoelectrochemical (PZEC) effect as a mechanism for the direct conversion of mechanical energy to chemical energy. When applied to natural piezoelectric crystals including quartz and serpentine, hydrogen and oxygen are generated via direct water decomposition. Laboratory experiments show H2 gas is generated from strained piezoelectric material due to the extremely low solubility of H2, suggesting that the deformed or strained mineral surfaces can catalyze water decomposition. If the strain-induced H2 production is significant, hydrogen measurements at monitoring sites can offer information on deformation of rocks operating at depth prior to earthquakes. Oxygen can be measured in water due to its high solubility compared to hydrogen. Our experimental results demonstrate that dissolved oxygen generated from the PZEC effect can oxidize dissolved organic dye and ferrous iron in an aqueous Fe(II)–silicate metal complex. The hydrogen and oxygen formed through stoichiometric decomposition of water in the presence of strained or deformed minerals in fault zones (including subduction zones and transform faults) may be referred to as tectonic hydrogen and tectonic oxygen. Tectonic hydrogen could be a potential energy source for deep subsurface and glacier-bedrock interface microbial communities that rely on molecular hydrogen for metabolism. Tectonic oxygen may have been an important oxidizing agent when dissolved in water during times in early Earth history when atmospheric oxygen levels were extremely low. Reported “whiffs” of dissolved oxygen before the Great Oxidation Event might have been related to tectonic activity.

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