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Earth Science

Water Isolated for Over a Billion Years Found Under Ontario 207

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the secret-illuminati-hideout dept.
ananyo writes "Scientists working 2.4 kilometers below Earth's surface in a Canadian mine have tapped a source of water that has remained isolated for at least a billion years. The researchers say they do not yet know whether anything has been living in it all this time, but the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen — the right stuff to support life. Micrometer-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals' formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth's crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years (paper abstract)."
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Water Isolated for Over a Billion Years Found Under Ontario

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  • It is time (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:10PM (#43742463) Journal

    If you need me, I will be in my hermetically sealed Doomsday Bunker, just in case a vicious and contagious disease emerges.

    • Re:It is time (Score:5, Informative)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:31PM (#43742685) Homepage Journal
      I hope you got it at a discount, 'cause those things can't be used, and diseases can only attack things they co-evolve with. This water is 1.5 billion years old. Plants appeared on land only 1.2 billion years ago. Animals evolved less than 700 million years ago. Just like the with Lake Vostok [slashdot.org] article from a couple of months ago, all anyone does by making that joke is showing that a meme from bad science fiction is still alive. Please stop. You're hurting yourself. This is the biology equivalent of saying the LHC makes black holes.
      • Damn. Out of mod points. Someone help!

      • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:49PM (#43742909)

        ...the LHC makes black holes. - Samantha Wright

      • by kryliss (72493) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:08PM (#43743119)

        That's a bunch of crap, that water can't be any older than 6,000 years old!!!

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        and diseases can only attack things they co-evolve with

        There are other reasons why these reservoirs are unlikely to contain pathogens, but your reasons are wrong. One of the most frequent ways in which new diseases appear is when they jump to a species that has no defenses against them. That's because our immune system isn't all powerful, it only really protects us against variants of pathogens we actually encounter in nature.

        • That's still co-evolution, just with a bit of a gap. "Things" is a nice, vague word. The tree of life still puts limits on how far pathogens can jump.
      • And I suppose saying that the world is only 6000 years old is the biology equivalent of Narnia? I think the water they found is also 6000 years old, but the intelligent creator made it appear to be older to see ho will doubt him.
        The intelligent creator also provided me, a man, with nipples, so maybe some day's he is just drunk or just not /that/ intelligent ;-D
      • Who says a disease can only attack things they co-evolve with?
        A disease is just another organism. It consumes things and it creates things. If it can consume things and survive inside another organism and the things it produces cause harm, it is a disease.

        What you're saying only really applies to a virus, not a bacterial infection or any other kind of parasite.

        • By definition, a parasite is something that has co-evolved with its host. Occasionally you do get species-jumping, but there are limits in how far this can go before the target is just too alien for the invader to adapt to. It takes a lot of exposure and a long time for evolution to enact any drastic changes.

          Simple, self-sufficient organisms like bacteria are a little more successful in exploring new environments, but their tendency to do harm is generally accidental, and requires a certain degree of metabo

          • Of course any effects would be accidental.
            You don't need to live long in a host to do damage. Excreting compounds inside something that has never been in contact with them before may cause undesired outcomes, like death.

            Organisms at the level of bacteria don't attack. They simply feed and reproduce.

            • Well, they can attack, but I don't want to give anyone nightmares. Cryptosporidium is unnerving enough as it is, and that's a well-developed metazoan.

              And granted, there are bacteria that secrete toxins as a defence mechanism, but the chance of an extreme reaction is fairly small for something that has never had to defend itself against animals. The kinds of random compounds you see excreted by exotic isolated bacteria may be irritants, but they're nonspecific and don't cause all that much damage. The more s

      • I hope you got it at a discount, 'cause those things can't be used, and diseases can only attack things they co-evolve with. This water is 1.5 billion years old. Plants appeared on land only 1.2 billion years ago. Animals evolved less than 700 million years ago. Just like the with Lake Vostok [slashdot.org] article from a couple of months ago, all anyone does by making that joke is showing that a meme from bad science fiction is still alive. Please stop. You're hurting yourself. This is the biology equivalent of saying the LHC makes black holes.

        You understand that, in this 1950s movie, you play the role of arrogant know-it-all who gets eaten, screaming as you lean back and the camera jams your face, don't you?

        • No, no, that was last week's script. They couldn't make the monster look unconvincing enough, so now we're going with the robot invasion/mind control subplot.
      • Yes, be afraid of the LHC and the old water, because it's not like we're modifying the DNA of the food we consume purely for corporate profits
        • it's not like we're modifying the DNA of the food we consume purely for corporate profits

          Hate to tell you, but mankind has been doing that for at least as long as horticulture and trading has been around, probably 15,000 years at the very least.

          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            The kind of DNA modifications we can do now are on a whole different scale than those we were capable of before the development of gene splicing.

        • As Lynnwood points out, most, if not all, GM crop modifications are simply more direct ways of achieving what we've already been doing for thousands of years through plant domestication: resistance to damp, drought, heat, cold, pests, and pesticides. The biggest danger is that these improvements will transfer into weeds, nullifying the utility of herbicides. Few if any crop modifications are a threat to human health.

          The real issues are about various kinds of monopolies: these modifications are patented and

      • SURE. Like we're supposed to believe a scientific posting on Slashdot over dozens of Hollywood movies?
      • Deep water? 1.5 billion years? And you think it's not something worrisome!?
        Cthuluh, I claim, nothing but Cthuluh!

        • The only argument I have against this is that it's in Northern Ontario, which is like Minnesota, only hillier, and far, far too boring for a south-pacific jet-setter like the Great Dead One.
      • by D1G1T (1136467)
        Cthulhu cares not for your childish linear 4 dimensional conceptions of biology. And now after more than a billion years trapped in a cyclopean prison of ancient stone he has been RELEASED!
    • by neoshroom (324937) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:45PM (#43742863)
      Generally parasites co-evolve with their hosts. Because of this, it is actually fairly unlikely to unearth some vicious ancient virus from waters a billion years old. Billions of years ago all that existed was bacteria [imgur.com] and the oldest viruses [telegraph.co.uk] we know about go back only hundreds of millions of years. [livescience.com]

      That said I fully endorse your Hermetic [wikipedia.org] seal [wikipedia.org] and wish you well in your initiating our flippered friends into the alchemic ways.
    • This water predates disease, it predates life on the planet, it even predates global warming.

  • 3. Profit (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bosconian (158140) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:11PM (#43742479) Journal

    Bottle it.
    Then sell it at $50 a pop with dubious claims about health benefits.

    "Billioneia Aquifer" - You can taste the years.

  • by krovisser (1056294) * on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:11PM (#43742489)
    Where they there to see it trapped? Then how do they know!?
    • by bunratty (545641)
      I suppose you could say that about anything that happened over 120 years ago.
    • Re:Nice try.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Buggz (1187173) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:24PM (#43742615)

      Where they there to see it trapped? Then how do they know!?

      I see you're keeping slashdot's tradition of not reading TFA. Here's what the very short article says about that:

      To date the water, the team used three lines of evidence, all based on the relative abundances of various isotopes of noble gases present in the water. The authors determined that the fluid could not have contacted Earth's atmosphere — and so been at the planet's surface — for at least 1 billion years, and possibly for as long as 2.64 billion years, not long after the rocks it flows through formed.

    • Re:Nice try.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by houbou (1097327) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:25PM (#43742621) Journal
      Based on what I read:

      They looked at the decay of radioactive atoms found in the water and calculated that it had been bottled up for a long time — at least 1.5 billion years

      They found that the water is rich in dissolved gases like hydrogen, methane and different forms of noble gases such as helium, neon, argon and xenon.

      They say there is as much hydrogen in the water as around hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean.
    • Re:Nice try.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by SupplyMission (1005737) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:31PM (#43742681)

      You might think that comment was "skeptical" or that it demonstrates your "critical thinking" but really, it was just plain ignorant. Based on this comment, one might reasonably assume you fall in with the kind of douchetards that yell out "42! Haha!" every time a mathematical discussion takes place.

      To answer your question, you might start by reading the article. It talks about isotopes and geochemistry.

      Then you could do some reading at the library to find out more about isotopes and geochemistry, and why these things are interesting and important. If you want to go further, you could take an undergraduate degree in geology, where you will learn all kinds of strange and wonderful things about the Earth, and how we can know about things that occurred billions of years ago.

      • You might think that comment was "skeptical" or that it demonstrates your "critical thinking" but really, it was just plain ignorant. Based on this comment, one might reasonably assume you fall in with the kind of douchetards that yell out "42! Haha!" every time a mathematical discussion takes place.

        To answer your question, you might start by reading the article. It talks about isotopes and geochemistry.

        Then you could do some reading at the library to find out more about isotopes and geochemistry, and why these things are interesting and important. If you want to go further, you could take an undergraduate degree in geology, where you will learn all kinds of strange and wonderful things about the Earth, and how we can know about things that occurred billions of years ago.

        In his defense, he was making a joke about ignorance.

  • by VAXcat (674775) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:13PM (#43742493)
    There is water at the bottom of the ocean!
  • God put it there to rattle our belief..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:29PM (#43742661)

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is said to have been disappointed with the find, but he is confident that continued efforts will eventually locate valuable stores of oil and coal ...

  • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:42PM (#43742821)
    The Silurians are going to be pissed.
  • by kannibal_klown (531544) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @01:42PM (#43742823)

    Seriously, this is just a science-fiction disaster waiting to happen.

    I, for one, welcome our new "Thing" overlords.

  • Still fizzy (Score:4, Funny)

    by Smivs (1197859) <smivs@smivsonline.co.uk> on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:05PM (#43743089) Homepage Journal
    This is amazing. 1 billion year old mineral water and it's still fizzy!
  • Measurement exactly? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:26PM (#43743361)

    How exactly is the time calculated? Does anyone know? I mean I have heard of several methods, from carbon dating to a few others, however this one is a bit exotic. It is not explained in either the article nor the paper, but only references another paper as which title seems to say potential method, which doesn't sound awfully conclusive.

    They mention the encapsulating rock formations are billions of years old, and I can get behind that analysis, but it is my understanding that you can find billion year old rock in a lot of places. How does one date water? How do you know that it has been trapped all that time, and not captured at some point through various geological processes.

    The paper references the African goldmine, but they used microbes, which I have to believe they haven't found yet. Something to do with levels of Xenon seems to be indicator, but what does that mean?

    Anyway I remain skeptical until I see the details... however the only problem admittedly is the details might be beyond my level of comprehension... Still it would be nice to know and at least attempt to explain how this is possible.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 16, 2013 @04:11PM (#43744453)

      It's technical [nature.com].

      Okay, basically there are a bunch of noble gas isotopes (He, Ne, Ar, and Xe). Some of these are generated by radioactive decay of isotopes within the Earth, and some are not, having been generated by nuclear fusion in the stars that eventually went supernova and were subsequently swept up by gravity to form the solar system. Over geological time, the ratio between these essentially "fixed"/inherited/initial isotopic amounts in the Earth and the newer "radiogenic" isotopes changes. This can be measured in the present-day atmosphere, which amounts to a kind of time-and-geographically-averaged sample of what is currently outgassing from the entire Earth. By contrast, if you isolate/trap some of these gasses in minerals or fractures and fail to mix them with newer radiogenic sources over time, then they're going to preserve the isotopic ratios from the time that they first got trapped and last interacted with the isotopic mixture that was slowly outgassing from the Earth at the time. The change in the isotopic ratios are something you can pretty easily project backwards if you know the average composition of the Earth, which we do (based on some types of meteorites that fall here and that represent undifferentiated leftovers from the formation of the solar system). Measure the isotopic composition of the fluid sample, look along that line describing how the isotopic ratios have changed over Earth history due to known rates of decay and concentrations, and you can estimate the corresponding age of the sample. The focus in this paper is Xe isotopes, but they have data for Ne, He, and Ar as well.

      This is *not* a traditional radiometric dating method, which ordinarily uses minerals, not fluids. Furthermore, for minerals it's usually fairly easy to look at the mineralogy of a sample at a microscopic scale and assess whether it is likely the system has remained closed (isolated from isotopic exchange with its surroundings) before analyzing the sample. For example, if a feldspar grain containing K has been partly altered into micas, this shows up clearly and would indicate that any result from the K/Ar method wouldn't reliably give you the age of the feldspar.

      The method with the fluids is almost the reverse. If the system had not remained closed/isolated (the normal expectation), then the multiple isotopic systems shouldn't yield a similar age. They do (within measurement uncertainties), implying the bold interpretation that the fluids have indeed been isolated for that long.

      An additional wrinkle is that they are analyzing fluids both from fractures and from what are called "fluid inclusions [wikipedia.org]", which are microscopic (typically 100 microns or less) pockets of fluid trapped within individual mineral grains (trapping fluids at the time the grain crystallized). Being able to compare those two types allows some additional assessment of mixing between fluids of different generations and origins (e.g., shallow crustal versus deep mantle fluids) and a host of other subtleties. Additional information is also provided by comparing to previously-published fluid analyses from other locations (South Africa and Australia) that are already known to be about the same host rock age. In any case, finding that fluid inclusions have an "ancient" isotopic signature isn't that big a deal (it means the minerals haven't been recrystallized by processes since then). The big surprise is finding that even the larger fractures seem to show the same signature rather than that of water with more modern isotopic compositions. That's amazing. And deserves some skepticism, which the authors try to address by looking at the other isotopic systems.

      That's about as far as I can get with only a few paragraphs of explanation. It only scratches the surface, but I hope it helps.

      • The measurements are valid, but IIUC, the dating typically uses the assumption that ther is/was not significant radioactivity in the region.

        Yet for dating of rocks, that would require that magma and lava not be radioactive. Tests on Mt. st. Helens lava, though, showed that it is.

        Moreover, the oldest areas on earth are where evidence indicates at least the possibility of their having been deMeijer/Van Westrenen style georeactor explosions: the craton around the Hudson, and South Africa (specifically the Afri

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Thursday May 16, 2013 @02:26PM (#43743363)
    mix well with Scotch?

    You probably thought I was going to ask if it ran Linux, didn't you?

  • So, the predominant theory seems to be that the water on Earth came from comets raining down in mass quantities in the early days of the Earth. The samples of this old water source shows a high amount of hydrogen. Could the water here have come from our planet having a lot of H2 that burned/reacted with the O2 we had, creating all our water, instead of being delivered here from the sky?
  • At last a source of water that makes the price of Perrier make some sense.

  • My wife got interested in Doctor Who after me and is catching up. We just watched Waters of Mars (re-watched for me). For the non-Whovians here, the Doctor finds himself at the first Mars colony in the near future where an infestation is spreading. Something in the water supply is turning people into water-spewing alien creatures. Even one drop of their water hitting you is enough to cause the change. The source of this was water from Mars that was isolated in a glacier for quite a long time.

    So you'll

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