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Ancient Water on Earth

Scientists discover 3 billion year-old ancient water on Earth

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A British and Canadian team of scientists have discovered ancient pockets of water , which may have been cut off from the surface three billion years ago. The similarity between the geography of the area on Earth where the water was found and the geography on Mars, raises the possibility that Mars may also have life-sustaining water trapped underneath the surface, which gives further hope to the possibility of finding living organisms there. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Professor of Geochemistry at the University of Toronto said: 'This shows that ancient rocks have the potential to support life and this could be the case whether they are three kilometres below the Earth’s surface or below the surface of Mars'

The groundwater was found bubbling up from a mine in Ontario, Canada, from nearly two miles beneath the surface. Researchers from the universities of Manchester, Lancaster, Toronto and McMaster analysed the water and discovered that it is at least 1.5 billion years old, but could be as old as 2.7 billion years - about half as old as the planet Earth itself, perhaps even predating the emergence of multicellular life. Until now, ancient water had only been found trapped in tiny bubbles of rock, but this water was gushing out from the rock at a rate of 2 litres per minute. 

The ancient water was found to contain an abundance of chemicals known to support organisms in the absence of sunlight.  It contains dissolved hydrogen and methane, as well as noble gases like helium, neon, argon and xenon, which could provide energy for microbes to survive.

Project leader Chris Ballentine, of the University of Manchester, said: 'Our finding is of huge interest to researchers who want to understand how microbes evolve in isolation, and is central to the whole question of the origin of life, the sustainability of life, and life in extreme environments and on other planets.'

The study team in Canada are currently examining whether the ancient water found in the mine contains any form of life. The results could have far-reaching implications for our understanding of life on Earth and even on other planets.

By April Holloway

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