Researchers announced a startling discovery today, saying that an ocean's worth of water is likely hidden deep within the Earth's mantle, locked in a water-rich mineral called ringwoodite.
According to Yahoo News, the discovery was announced today (June 12) in the journal Science. Its findings focus largely on a "transition zone" which is situated between 255 and 410 miles beneath the Earth's surface, seperating the upper and lower mantle layers. It is in this zone, researchers argue, that an amount of water equivalent to all of the Earth's oceans combined lies hidden, locked within the crystalline structure of the minerals.
The study, co-authored by Brandon Schmandt, a seismologist at the University of New Mexico, isn't the first to allege that water could be hidden deep within the Earth. As The Inquisitr previously reported, a one-of-a-kind diamond discovered in Brazil contained the first traces of ringwoodite that scientists had ever observed originating from a natural, terrestrial environment.
According to Anna Kelbert of Oregon State University, it is the first study that approaches the idea of hidden water by searching for "melt" zones within the mantle, where intense pressure and heat change the structure of minerals, a process that Schmandt calls "a mechanism of getting rid of the water," which is unstable deep within the earth. According to Kelbert, the study "provides an important multidisciplinary perspective on this problem," and provides a new approach to "our understanding of [the] overall water budget/distribution in the Earth."
Ringwoodite, which forms under intense pressure, has previously only been observed from meteorites or generated in a lab. You wouldn't likely recognize its water content: instead of being present in its common forms of liquid, solid, or gas, the water is actually trapped within ringwoodite as hydroxide ions. In order to understand the process by which this occurs, researchers performed experiments on ringwoodite, and analyzed seismic waves traveling through the mantle to determine that downward flowing mantle material is actually melting as it crosses the transition layer, according to Discovery News. Copying the melting process in a lab, Schmandt and his colleague, geophysicist Steven Jacobsen, were able to study the seismic properties of the mineral and hunt for the melting process with seismometers.
The pair say that because of the melting process, the transition zone is a stable, if hidden, water reservoir. "The surface water we have now came from degassing of molten rock. It came from the original rock ingredients of Earth," Schmandt contended, openly wondering if an ocean's worth of water might still lie hidden within the Earth.