Oldest Water On Earth: How Did Scientists Find An Ancient Pocket Of Water 2 Miles Underground?

By Philip Ross on May 16, 2013 12:12 PM EDT

oldest water on earth
The oldest water on Earth, discovered two miles underground in Canada, could provide a snapshot of ancient life on our planet. (Photo: Flickr/Image Editor)

Is it the oldest water on Earth? Scientists believe so. The ancient pocket of water, discovered in Canada and tucked away deep inside Earth's mantle, is thought to have been trapped underground for over a billion years -- even as early as 2.6 billion years ago.

How did scientists find an ancient pocket of water nearly 2 miles underground?

Like Us on Facebook

Near the small town of Timmins in Ontario, Canada, scientists studied water samples taken from the deep holes drilled by gold miners. The manmade mine shafts, located about 350 miles north of Toronto, reach depths up to a few miles, harboring deep underground water springs that sprouted from fissures in the rock.

Looking at the radioactive decay of the water's atoms, Greg Holland, a geochemist at Lancaster University in England, and his colleagues were able to calculate that the water had been contained in the deep holes for at least 1.5 billion years, NPR reports. The ancient reservoirs act like time capsules, preserving clues about what life was like at the time the water was trapped.

"The fluids that we see now are actually preservations of ancient oceans," Holland told NPR.

The team published their findings in the May 16 issue of the journal Nature. According to their findings, the oldest water on Earth carried the ingredients necessary to support life.

The Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago when dust particles coalesced into small masses. Over time, these masses formed larger objects with gravitational pull. These masses continued to grow, collecting more and more dust particles, until eventually, planets, including Earth, formed.

"There were no continents as yet, just a global ocean peppered with small islands," BBC reports. "Erosion, sedimentation and volcanic activity eventually created small proto-continents which grew until they reached roughly their current size 2.5 billion years ago."

According to BBC, life first appeared on earth around 3.8 billion years ago when single-celled prokaryotic cells like bacteria first emerged. From BBC:

Multicellular life evolved over a billion years later and it's only in the last 570 million years that the kind of life forms we are familiar with began to evolve, starting with arthropods, followed by fish 530 million years ago (Ma), land plants 475Ma and forests 385Ma. Mammals didn't evolve until 200Ma and our own species, Homo sapiens, only 200,000 years ago. So humans have been around for a mere 0.004 percent of the Earth's history.

To put some perspective on this timeframe, keep in mind that the pyramids were built only 4,500 years ago, which represents just one-millionth of Earth's history.

And what can the oldest water on earth tell us about ancient life on our planet, and even beyond?

"Finding life in this energy-rich water is especially exciting if one thinks of Mars, where there might be water of similar age and mineralogy under the surface," geoscientist Sherwood Lollar told NBC News.

Read more from iScience Times:

Carnivore Death Cave: What Lured Ancient Mammals To Their Deaths?

Ancient Lake Structure Found Beneath Sea Of Galilee: Scientists To Excavate Jumbo Jet Sized Object [YouTube]

66 Ancient Skeletons: What Did Indonesian Researchers Learn From Discovery In Sumatra?

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Sponsored From Around the Web

    ZergNet
Follow iScience Times
us on facebook RSS
 
us on google
 
Most Popular
INSIDE iScience Times
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
How Many Ways Can You Tie A Tie?
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
Ribbon Of Charged Particles At Solar System's Edge Acts Like A Wind Sock For Interstellar Magnetism
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet  Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
How to Turn Your Tap Water Faucet Into a Coffee Spout [VIDEO]
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
Coolest Science Photos Of 2013: From Blobfish To Two-Headed Shark, Comet ISON To Mars Selfie
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)
This Is A Scientifically-Proven Rock-Paper-Scissors Winning Strategy (But If Your Opponent Uses It Too, It's A Draw)