Discovery of World’s Oldest Water Expands Understanding of Earth’s Habitability

Discovery of World’s Oldest Water Expands Understanding of Earth’s Habitability
PHOTOGRAPH: P199 | The Kidd Mine, near Timmins, Ontario, Canada

The world’s oldest water was found in an ancient pool in the northern part of Ontario, Canada. It led researchers to surmise that it could harbor microbial life ‘alien’ to life on the surface.

Researchers had previously uncovered microbes inhabiting similar ancient water running through the cracks of ancient rocks deep below the ground in South Africa. The very existence of the living single-celled organisms hint at the survival of complex life deep in the Earth.

At the Kidd Creek Mine in Ontario, an iconic site, investigators initially found ancient fluid back in 2013 spanning a depth of 1.5 miles in an underground tunnel.  Sherwood Lollar deduced that given the water reactions on  ancient rocks on Earth, similar processes hint at the possibility of making the Martian subsurface habitable.

Exploring Deeper Into the Earth

Geochemist Barbara Sherwood Lollar from the University of Toronto said it was the previous discovery – back in  2013 — that prompted researchers to dig deeper. Sherwood Lollar and her team closely studied the groundwater at the Kidd Mine.

The team members noted the old bubbling water, and analyzed the gases dissolved in this ancient groundwater. They were able to date it back to at least 2 billion years, making it the oldest known water on Earth.

The findings were then presented to the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting held recently in San Francisco. Long Li, one of the researchers representing the University of Alberta’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, went on to state that if there is any life on Mars, the best bet is to look below the surface.

The sulfate in the  ancient water, she noted, is not modern sulfate from surface water flowing down. It is actually produced in place by reaction between the water and rock. The naturally occurring reaction can persist for as long as the water and rock are in contact, potentially billions of years.


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