Deep in the Canadian North… in a frigid town called Timmins, where even polar bears fear to tread… there’s been–
Editor: Wait, wait. Hold up. What do you mean, “deep in the Canadian North?” You mean Timmins, Ontario, home of Canadian country pop sensation Shania Twain?
Editor: That’s what I thought. Please continue.
So, as we were saying, in a small town in northeastern Ontario where it’s not quite as cold as some people would like to believe (you have to go much further north for that), a team from the University of Toronto made a rather incredible discovery.
Inside boreholes in the Timmins Mine, about 2.4 kilometers below ground level, the team collected samples of ancient water that is estimated to be between 1.1 and 2.6 billion years old.
Yes, that’s as old as the rocks in the mine! When the surrounding rocks formed, that depth of 2.4 kilometers down? Would have been ocean floor. That means folks who walk around in the Timmins Mine in those boreholes are walking on 2.6 billion-year-old seafloor.
The team who collected the samples found that the water contained rich amounts of dissolved gases, such as methane and hydrogen. These gases can provide energy for microbes that tend to be found around hydrothermal deep-ocean vents.
Barbara Sherwood Lollard, an Earth Scientist and co-author of the water study, says that a find like this “shows us that there’s been very little mixing between this water and the surface water; what we want to do … is see if we can narrow that [age range] down.”
By measuring the concentrations of other rare gases in the water—neon, helium, argon, and xenon—the team was able to make its estimation of the water’s age, ie. how long it had been trapped underground, and whether it had interacted with any other water or if it remained isolated all that time.
The next step to this find is in testing the water for microbes—yes, living microbes that might be billions of years old! Some ancient microbes can survive for that long without access to sunlight, and can reveal new information about the development of life on Earth.
This ancient water provides the necessary evidence to prove that pockets of water can exist in isolation under the Earth’s crust for billions of years—and may have implications for the possibility of life on other planets!
Geochemist Steven Shirey has weighed in with his thoughts on the study, saying that “if you think that you can have microbial life throughout the entire crust of the Earth, then all of a sudden it becomes very possible that life could live on other planets under the right condition.”
Considering that there’s known to be warm rock under the cold surface of Mars, it’s possible that water may still exist… and perhaps some ancient Martian microbes?
(Editor: Hmm… The Ancient Standard: Mars Edition… that sounds pretty good…!)