Now Reading
This geologist discovered the oldest water on earth—in a Canadian mine

This geologist discovered the oldest water on earth—in a Canadian mine

2023-03-01 23:03:42

The billion-year-old water would possibly assist unlock considered one of humanity’s largest unanswered questions: May there be life on different planets?

When Barbara Sherwood Lollar despatched water samples to a colleague on the College of Oxford for testing, she knew this was no peculiar water. The geochemist had spent a lot of her profession wandering round a few of the deepest mines on the earth, discovering and extracting water that was hundreds of thousands of years outdated. She waited and waited for outcomes that ought to’ve come again promptly. So she dialled up the U.Okay. researcher in command of the take a look at. “I stated, ‘Hey, what’s occurring with the samples?’ ” she recollects. “He stated, ‘Our mass spectrometer is damaged. This will’t be proper.’ ” The assessments pegged the imply age of the samples, extracted from a mine north of Timmins, Ont., in 2009, at 1.6 billion years outdated—the oldest ever discovered on Earth.

Sherwood Lollar, the Canada Analysis Chair in Isotope Geochemistry of the Earth and the Surroundings on the College of Toronto, says the traditional water would possibly assist reply a query that curious earthlings have requested so long as we’ve peered skyward: may there be life on different planets?

A water sample from the mine (Courtesy of Canada Science and Technology Museum)

A water pattern from the mine (Courtesy of Canada Science and Expertise Museum)

The billion-year-old liquid’s lifeless giveaway is its musty scent. “It actually is following your nostril proper as much as the rock, to search out the crack or the fractures the place the water is discharging,” says Sherwood Lollar. However finding the extremely saline fluid—as much as 10 occasions saltier than sea water—requires greater than a gifted schnozz. Sherwood Lollar first visited the Glencore-owned Kidd Creek mine north of Timmins in 1992. Seventeen years later, on an expedition that took her 2.4 km underground, her group lastly extracted the record-setting brine. 4 years and numerous assessments later, the group settled on the billion-year-plus determine.

READ MORE: How gold mining forever transformed a river in the Yukon

These assessments concerned measuring radiogenic noble gases like helium and xenon, the weather on the far-right facet of the periodic desk. “Because the water sits there, it accumulates them, like passengers getting on a practice,” says Sherwood Lollar. We’d know water as H2O, forgetting every little thing that’s dissolved in it. For instance, a small vial of the Kidd mine water transferred in 2020 to Ingenium—a Crown company that runs the Canada Science and Expertise Museum in Ottawa—options sediment on the backside. That’s iron oxide, which precipitated from the water after publicity to oxygen from the air.

Then got here a revelation. Tiny chemolithotrophic microbes—an instance, as Sherwood Lollar places it, of life “hanging on by its toenails”—had been current within the water and feasting on hydrogen and sulfate. The chemistry that produced the subterranean meals resembled mineral-rich hydrothermal vents on the ocean flooring that help related microbial life. However, so far, no one had recognized one thing related was occurring deep inside continents. Glencore claims that the Kidd mine, which nonetheless produces copper and zinc, runs deeper than any base-metal mine on the earth, at 3,012 m and counting.

NASA’s Jesse Tarnas visited Kidd Creek to learn what its deep fluids can tell us about life on Mars (Courtesy of Stable Isotope Lab/University of Toronto)

NASA’s Jesse Tarnas visited Kidd Creek to study what its deep fluids can inform us about life on Mars (Courtesy of Steady Isotope Lab/College of Toronto)

Its operations supervisor, Ryan Roberts, says the journey from the floor to the water supply takes as much as an hour. The scientists take the identical journey as miners who work there: a two-storey cage elevator that may carry 140 folks; a 1.5-km battery-powered practice journey; one other double-decker cage; after which a corkscrew-shaped ramp—at 24 km, one of many longest on the earth—to a depth of two,377 m. That’s the place Sherwood Lollar says Glencore put aside area for one more superlative characteristic: “One of many deepest and longest scientific observatories for fluids and deep microbiology on the earth.”

Down there, the partitions are heat to the contact. The water temperature is not less than 25° C, and ore extraction stays job No. 1. “An enormous a part of what we do is attempt to not get of their manner,” she says.

Roberts notes the mine, which dates to 1963, isn’t a “science mission.” Miners solely dig as deeply as their enterprise case warrants. However he marvels on the achievement that facilitated Sherwood Lollar’s work. Reaching that depth, he says, is “not a pure phenomenon. It’s people who have gotten us there.”

See Also

RELATED: How to destroy a lake without causing an uproar

The Precambrian Canadian Protect that shops huge mineral deposits is 2.7 billion years outdated, and as soon as fashioned an ocean flooring. What was as soon as horizontal is now vertical, and the rock partitions on the journey down the ramp provide a tour of an historical seabed, preserved for hundreds of millennia. The Earth’s floor is in fixed flux, and its oldest current ocean flooring dates again only some hundred million years. The undisturbed Protect is now Earth’s closest analogue to the subsurface of Mars, which by no means succumbed to the churning forces of plate tectonics. If water can breed life far beneath Timmins, there’s an opportunity the identical is true on the Purple Planet. Nobody will know for certain till they take a more in-depth look.

“If there are any biomarkers, indicators of previous life, they’ve gotta be within the subsurface,” muses Sherwood Lollar, including: “We now not consider life on Earth as this smear of biology on the floor. Life could also be one thing that deeply permeates our planet.”

Perhaps others, too. The bottom’s the restrict.

This text seems in print within the Could 2021 situation of Maclean’s journal with the headline, “Placing time in a bottle.” Subscribe to the month-to-month print journal here.

Source Link

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

2022 Blinking Robots.
WordPress by Doejo

Scroll To Top