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In Canada’s Ancient Water, New Life

On a planet with an unchanging amount of water, and a pretty good idea where all of it is, scientists have uncovered something startling up in Ontario, Canada. Water locked deep under Canadian bedrock was slowly seeping out of tunnels that gold miners were drilling in the hills. When a few British scientists caught word, they asked to sample the water. They discovered it was more than one billion years old.

How do you test water’s age? Not easily, it turns out. Generally you need a large amount of water, and a laboratory to do complex chemical analysis. There are a few ways to date water, but the most common is by testing isotopes of hydrogen and helium. Both are found in large supply in the universe, and fortunately for chemists, both also decay at certain known intervals. Measuring those intervals essentially gives you a rough estimate of how long the water has been stagnant, without the introduction of new hydrogen or helium.

In this case, the isotopes were quite old. The scientists put the number at 1.5 billion years, but it could be older—by a magnitude of another billion, said geochemist Greg Holland. It was likely a remnant of ancient oceans before it was covered by today’s landmasses. Yet it’s not the water that really interests sceintists. Locked with that ancient water may be single-celled microbes that have pretty much been living on a different planet for nearly half of Earth’s existence. That’s longer than humans have lived on Earth. They’d pre-date the dinosaurs by more than 750 million years.

The polar caps of Mars have been closely studied for evidence that the Red Planet once held water. New Earth research suggests that planets like Mars might contain life under the surface. Photo by NASA

The polar caps of Mars have been closely studied for evidence that the Red Planet once held water. New Earth research suggests that planets like Mars might contain life under the surface. Photo by NASA

Why does it matter? That’s a question we often ask in science, sometimes with less-than-satisfying answers. This time, however, the purpose might be nothing short of helping explain the arc of evolution. These microbes may turn out to be some of the first aliens humans have discovered, and on our own planet to boot. They’ve evolved on different timeline in their own closed ecosystem, giving us a parallel track of Earth’s natural history. Understanding them could offer an alternate track to study evolution—and get us closer to knowing just how much life there could be locked underground on other planets.

Comments

  1. BARBARA MARCELA ARIZAGA FUENZALIDA (Student)
    Quito, Ecuador
    March 20, 12:21 am

    If people are find life in the Earth’s water it is likely that if Mars had water it will have life. Since the microbes are one of the first forms of aliens that scientist have found this could be a clue that there are organisms outside the planet earth. This source of ancient water also helps us to know more about the evolution of life. In another article, I found that ancient water is twice as salty as ocean water. As soon as scientist this discoveries they realized that earth could hold water for more time that they thought. Mars has a similar environment than a mine. Therefore that is what makes them think that there are sources of ancient water also present in Mars.
    If you check this article http://news.discovery.com/earth/ancient-water-found-under-canada-130515.htm you will find more information about ancient water.

  2. asemah
    usa
    February 12, 6:49 pm

    wow i new about water and how old it was but in the water cycle
    name i have never read anything so amazing

  3. Robert de Krieger
    Saint Rémy and Schopfheim
    May 19, 2013, 6:37 am

    One more nail in the coffin of Genesis and the rest of the Bible

  4. Duncan Johnston
    Up in BC
    May 18, 2013, 7:01 pm

    Is this not pure speculation?
    “These microbes may turn out to be some of the first aliens humans have discovered, and on our own planet to boot. They’ve evolved on different timeline in their own closed ecosystem, giving us a parallel track of Earth’s natural history…”
    er… they haven’t been found yet.

  5. Gld Adam
    Canada
    May 18, 2013, 12:31 pm

    Your headline is misrepresentative as no life has been found yet. Shame on you

  6. Abraham Lincoln
    atlantis
    May 16, 2013, 7:09 pm

    Every molecule of water is over a billion years old. That is no big scientific discovery, England. Get over yourself.

  7. Leland Christensen
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    May 16, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Why wouldn’t evolution happen in that little backwater as well? Cosmic radiation would still be an event as well as bacteria etc. from the surrounding rock. Is there really anywhere on Earth that could be totally isolated for that long?