Two-billion-year-old water found in Canada
Friday, December 16, 2016, 5:48 PM - The Canadian scientists who found what they thought was the oldest water in the world, have now found an even older deposit of the life-giving liquid.
In 2013, the research team, led University of Toronto scientists, previously found water that was a billion years years old, at a depth of 2.4 km at a mine in Timmins, Ont. Now, new findings from even deeper in the mine have turned up water that's two billion years old.
U of T Prof. Barbara Sherwood Lollar told the BBC it wasn't a trace amount, either.
"When people think about this water they assume it must be some tiny amount of water trapped within the rock," she told the broadcaster. "But in fact it’s very much bubbling right up out at you. These things are flowing at rates of litres per minute - the volume of the water is much larger than anyone anticipated."
The water is rich in dissolved gases such as helium, neon, argon and others which can be measured to calculate the age of the rock. It's also about eight times saltier than sea water, and one of the researchers, U of T Prof. Oliver Warr, told CBC drinking it wouldn't be fatal, though the taste would be "disgusting."
And where there's water, there's life, or at least the possibility of it. The researchers found evidence in the water that it once housed microbes, and did so for a long time.
"The microbes that produced this signature couldn’t have done it overnight. This isn’t just a signature of very modern microbiology," Sherwood Lollar told the BBC. "This has to be an indication that organisms have been present in these fluids on a geological timescale."
That has implications beyond the northern Ontario mineshaft where the water was found. If life could exist in those conditions, that far underground, it bodes well for the eventual discovery of microbial life elsewhere in the solar system, such as Mars or some of the moons of Jupiter.
"If the ancient rocks of Earth are producing this much hydrogen, it may be that similar processes are taking place on Mars," Sherwood Lollar says.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and will be published in Nature.