Recently a team of scientists stumbled upon a cache of water nearly 1.5 miles under the earth’s surface in Canada. The water, trapped in the various layers of granite-like rocks, is known to be around 2.5 billion years old. It may give the scientists a peek into the super-ancient life that may have sustained itself in this water. It’s rarest of the rare opportunities. And what does one of the scientists, Barbara Sherwood Lollar does? She drinks a portion of that water.
Remember how even a one-week old water tastes? Obviously it tastes stagnant and smelly, and we are advised against consuming old, stagnant water as it may give us some stomach infection. So when even a one-week old water can give us stomachaches just imagine what a sip of 2.5 billion-year-old water can do. Actually it can be a good theme for a horror flick in which a super-ancient parasite begins to grow inside the belly of a scientist who has this weird fetish for billion-year-old water and then wrecks havoc in the world.
Anyway, this is how Dr. Lollar describes the taste of the water:
I have to admit I have tasted it from time to time. It tastes terrible. It is much saltier than seawater. You would definitely not want to drink this stuff. It’s probably not a good idea to put this potentially 2.5 billion-year-old water of indeterminate makeup into my mouth…. you know, again.
So the doctor hasn’t just tasted the water once to further the cause of science, she has tasted it “from time to time”. Come to think of it, how precious and expensive that water must be. And she is drinking it up. What if no water is left for research?
But how does such sort of water get trapped within the layers of the rocks and grows so ancient? In an interview published in the LA Times, Dr. Lollar explains:
The rocks in the Timmins mine formed about 2.6 billion years ago on what was an ancient ocean floor. Some of the water trapped in them could be remnants of ocean water that was in contact with the rock when it formed, and some of the water probably moved through cracks in the rock over time and then got stuck there.
So how do they know the age of water trapped within these rocks?
That came about from a technique that our colleagues at the University of Manchester in England have refined. The longer a fluid sits in the Earth over time, the more it interacts with the rock and creates radiogenic isotopes of the noble gases. By measuring the radiogenic isotopes in the water, we get an estimate of how old it is. These are some of the most radiogenic-rich waters that have ever been identified.