Billion-year-old water Holds Clues to Ancient Life on Earth and Mars
By Sam Goodwin | May 16, 2013 05:57 AM EDT
A group of researchers has found pockets of water that are reportedly billions of years old and contain chemicals known to support life
A team of UK-Canadian researchers has uncovered pockets of water in Ontario that are reportedly billions of years old. This water may be the oldest water on Earth. The water discovered also contains chemicals known to support life. What has made this discovery even greater is that fact that the rocks that had trapped this water contain elements similar to rocks found on Mars, leading scientists to hope that comparable life-sustaining water could lie buried beneath the red planet's surface.
The water was discovered in a copper and zinc mine near Timmins, Ontario, and most probably was isolated for one to 2.64 billion years. It contains high levels of methane and hydrogen, which are important elements in supporting life. According to a press release, these two gases could have provided life support to living organism that may not have had sunlight for more than a billion years. The rocks that had trapped the water were found to be more than 2.7 billion years old but it is still not clear if the water is the same age as the rocks.
"These are the oldest waters that have ever been identified," Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a geoscientist at the University of Toronto and one of the study's authors, said, reports The Star. "We don't know yet if there's life in this, but what we've been able to show is it is habitable, meaning (having the) potential to support life because of the energy that's there."
Previously, water of the same age was discovered but this water was not capable of supporting life. Researchers are also not sure whether the underground system in Canada sustains life.
Dr Greg Holland of Lancaster University, lead author of the study says, "Our Canadian colleagues are trying to find out if the water contains life right now. What we can be sure of is that we have identified a way in which planets can create and preserve an environment friendly to microbial life for billions of years. This is regardless of how inhospitable the surface might be, opening up the possibility of similar environments in the subsurface of Mars."
Professor Ballentine, based in Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, adds, "While the questions about life on Mars raised by our work are incredibly exciting, the ground-breaking techniques we have developed at Manchester to date ancient waters also provide a way to calculate how fast methane gas is produced in ancient rock systems globally. The same new techniques can be applied to characterize old, deep groundwater that may be a safe place to inject carbon dioxide."