December 16, 2016
World's Oldest Water Discovered Dates Back Two Billion Years

Scientists have made the truly remarkable discovery of a spot that contains the world's oldest water, dating back an astonishing two billion years. The location of this water was found in Kidd Mine in Ontario, Canada and is locked inside the Earth's crust.

Initially, ancient water was found in this copper, zinc, and silver mine in 2013 at a depth of 1.5 miles and was dated at 1.5 billion years. Science Alert has reported that because of the vast depth of this mine, it is thought to be the deepest base metal mine below sea level that we know of at 1.9 miles deep and with mining happening at 9,600 feet.

Due to the extreme depth of Kidd Mine, scientists had the luxury of exploring further, which brings us to this exciting new discovery of the world's oldest water. The University of Toronto's Professor Barbara Sherwood Lollar described how their initial find in the mine helped to fuel scientists to delve even further into the recesses of the Earth.

A lake underground on Madeira Island
A lake deep underground on Madeira Island. What might the world's oldest water in Kidd Mine look like? [Image by AlexanderNikiforov/iStock/Getty Images]

"The 2013 find really pushed back our understanding of how old flowing water could be and so it really drove us to explore further. And we took advantage of the fact that the mine is continuing to explore deeper and deeper into the earth."
Once scientists hit the 1.9 mile mark, they made the surprise discovery of the ancient liquid.
"When people think about this water they assume it must be some tiny amount of water trapped within the rock. 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."
The University of Toronto's Dr. Oliver Warr led the latest investigation, the BBC reports, and chemical traces were also found which had been left by single-celled organisms that lived and thrived in the fluid. Professor Lollar explained that by gazing at the sulfate in the water, they were able to see indications of life.
"This has to be an indication that organisms have been present in these fluids on a geological timescale."
For the curious who are wondering how the ancient water considered to be the oldest water in the world could be dated back two billion years, this can be easily explained. Surface water flows much faster than groundwater, with groundwater flowing perhaps one meter per year. But when you drill into the mine with boreholes, the water will flow faster and can move at perhaps two liters per minute even. If you analyze the different gasses that have dissolved in the groundwater, such as argon, xenon, neon, and helium, you are then able to more accurately date the water.

These recent findings were just presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco this week. While no peer-reviewed studies have been conducted yet, once the findings are verified not only will geochemistry records be broken, but other new discoveries may be lurking on the horizon.

It is suggested that microbial life may exist in such ancient pools of water due to geochemical conditions and that an ecosystem here could even carry on, quite possibly, for perhaps billions of years. The University of Alberta's Long Li has discussed the implications of this in a press release.

"The wow factor is high. If geological processes can naturally supply a steady energy source in these rocks, the modern terrestrial subsurface biosphere may expand significantly both in breadth and depth."
A limestone cave with an underground lake.
A limestone cave with an underground lake. [Image by swedewah/iStock/Getty Images]

So even though researchers haven't gazed deeply into the oldest water in the world and found any living microbes there, this certainly doesn't mean that they don't exist, as Professor Lollar stated.

"We still need to determine what the distribution of ancient waters are on Earth, what the ages of this deep hydrogeosphere are, how many are inhabited. And how any life we might find in those isolated waters is the same or different from other microbial life found for instance at the hydrothermal vents on the ocean floors."
Once some peer-reviewed studies have been conducted, we may very well be learning of further discoveries revolving around the oldest water in the world.

[Featured Image by David Klepper/AP Images]