Scientists probing the deepest reaches of the Earth to find clues about the origins of life have found something unique: the world’s oldest water.
While the Earth’s most ancient source of H20 has since 2013 been known to exist in the Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins, Ontario, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto that went even deeper into the mine has come up with new findings.
The 2013 water, found to be 1.5 billion years old, was detected at a depth of 2.4 kilometres down the copper, zinc and silver mine. But the recently discovered water coming from boreholes in the ground, was found even deeper, at a depth of nearly three kilometres, and has been dated at roughly 2 billion years old.
The results were presented at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.
“When people think about this water they assume it must be some tiny amount of water trapped within the rock,” Barbara Sherwood Lollar, geochemist at U of T and lead author of the new study, told the BBC. “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.”
What’s more, the ancient water was found to contain chemical traces left behind by a single-celled organism that once lived there.
“This has to be an indication that organisms have been present in these fluids on a geological timescale,” Lollar told the British public broadcaster.
Owned by Glencore (LON:GLEN), Kidd Creek is the world’s deepest base metal mine below sea level, with mining taking place at 9,600 feet. It also has the longest surface-to-bottom ramp.
The mine uses automated loaders and on-demand ventilation to produce an average 40,000 tonnes of copper and 70,000 tonnes of zinc annually.