U of T researchers discover worlds oldest water
U of T researchers discover worlds oldest water

Oldest Water Found On Earth in Ontario Base Metal Mine

Researchers probing the deepest reaches of the Earth to find clues about the origins of life have found something unique: the world’s oldest water.

The University of Toronto researchers found the primordial water at a depth of 2.4km in Kidd Creek Mine, which is located in Timmins, Ontario.

University of Toronto’s Professor 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 results were presented at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.


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