[caption id="attachment_66127" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Water filtering out of the floor of a deep Ontario mine has been trapped underground for more than a billion years. It bubbles with gasses carrying nutrients that could sustain microbial life.
Oldest Water Found On Earth - May Hold Key to Life On Other Planets
Scientists have found pockets of water deep inside the Earth's crust (two miles deep to be exact) which they have been able to date as being two billion years old. Their findings are detailed in the May 16 issue of the ournal called "Nature".
In a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers say water they have found in a copper and zinc mine near Timmins, Ont., has been isolated for one to 2.64 billion years, far longer than anything previously discovered. And the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen, possible indicators of life, reports the Star.
“These are the oldest waters that have ever been identified,” Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geoscientist at the University of Toronto and one of the study’s authors, told The Canadian Press. “We don’t know yet if there’s life in this, but what we’ve been able to show is it is habitable, meaning (having the) potential to support life because of the energy that’s there.”
Over the years, Scientists have examined air trapped inside rocks and obtained ratios of the noble gases found in the air pockets. This mapping chronicles the ratio of noble gases in various eras of the Earth's history became a cross-reference so to speak.
Deep in the mine in which they found the pockets of water, they were able to determine the ratio of noble gases in the water and compare that with the mapping from ancient air pockets to determine the age of the water as being approximately two billion years old.
“The isotopic compositions that they see in these samples are extremely strange, and the preferred explanation in the article seems to me the most likely one,” says Pete Burnard, a geochemist at the Centre of Petrographic and Geochemical Research in Vandœuvre-les-Nancy, France. “For the moment, I think we have to conclude that there are 1.5-billion-year-old fluids trapped in the crust.”
The age of the water has been described by scientists as being "mind blowing". The study of the water may lead to the discovery of ancient forms of life.
The findings of the oldest water on earth are “doubly interesting”, Ballentine says, because the fluid carries the ingredients necessary to support life. The isolated water supply, he says, provides “secluded biomes, ecosystems, in which life, you can speculate, might have even originated”. His colleagues are now working to establish whether the water does harbour life.
"Sometimes we went down in cages — they're not called elevators underground — that dropped us to the levels we wanted to go," Sherwood Lollar told OurAmazingPlanet. "Other times, we went down ramp mines, which have curling spiral roadways, so we could actually drive all the way down."
Potentially, this technique can be employed on other spheres such as Mars to find proof of life forms. If life can be found in this water which is of a composition quite different than tap water, it may indicate that similar water on Mars may too hold life forms.
Rosie Redfield, a University of British Columbia microbiologist, twells the Star that if life is found within the water, it would almost certainly be part of the same “family” as all other life on Earth, and wouldn’t have developed independently.
“If there is life in there, it almost certainly shares common ancestry with us,” she said. “And so almost certainly it’s not going to be ‘alien’ life. But it’s the kind of strange and alien that’s exciting to certain kinds of microbiologists.”
On The Web:
Oldest Water on Earth Found Deep Underground
Reservoir deep under Ontario holds billion-year-old water
Oldest Water On Earth: Billion-year-old water found in Ontario could reveal clues about ancient life