Feeds

Boffins find world's oldest virgin water trapped in Earth's crust

Billion-plus-year discovery gives hope for life on Mars

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

A team of British and Canadian scientists think they've found the oldest water sealed off from the Earth's atmosphere hidden deep in the Earth's crust, and estimate it is between 1.5 and 2.67 billion years old.

Old Water

How long before Perrier tries to flog this?

The researchers analyzed water welling up from boreholes drilled 1.5 miles under the planet's surface in a zinc and copper mine in Timmins, Canada. An analysis of the water, particularly its xenon content, suggests it is at least 1.5 billion years old, and even much older if it was around at the time as the rock formations in which it was found – an age range that came as something of a shock.

"We were expecting these fluids to be possibly tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of years of age," said Chris Ballentine, a geochemist at the University of Manchester, in a statement.

The water was found in the Precambrian Shield, a geological formation covering much of northern Canada, which billions of years ago was at the bottom of a sea. While the water is still being analyzed for signs of microorganisms, it does contain hydrogen, nitrogen, and methane in forms that could support life.

To date, the oldest virgin water supplies have been found in South Africa (around 25 million years old) and more recently a 20-million-year-old sample was taken from Lake Vostok in Antarctica. The new samples from Canada are much older, and their discovery could have implications for the search for life on Mars.

"Mars, like the Precambrian shields on Earth, is dominated by tectonically quiescent geologic terrains which are billions of years old, some with serpentinized ultramafic rocks capable of sustaining production of reduced gases such as found in the terrestrial Archean fracture fluids," the team report in a paper published in Nature.

"If such ancient fluids, with millimolar concentrations of H2 and CH4, are preserved deep in the terrestrial crust on billion-year timescales, perhaps similar potential buried biomes may be preserved at depth in the subsurface of Mars on planetary timescales."

The latest data from the Curiosity rover on Mars suggests that free-flowing water was once common on the Red Planet. The Canadian find could mean that water is still present in the Martian crust and that it might harbor life, as well as being of use to any future colonists. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Microsoft's anti-bug breakthrough: Wire devs to BRAIN SCANNERS
Clippy: It looks your hands are shaking, are you sure you want to commit this code?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.