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Geologist finds and tastes the oldest water source on Earth dating back to 500 million years

A geologist makes a groundbreaking discovery by unearthing Earth's oldest water source and tasting it out of curiosity.

Geologist finds and tastes the oldest water source on Earth dating back to 500 million years
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Yousef Salah, CNN | Barbara Sherwood Lollar

Looking at the past can give us a lot of interesting insights. Sometime back, scientists unearthed a source of water located deep down in a mine in Canada back in 2013. Interestingly, they discovered another source at the same site in 2016 that had water that was found to be at least 500 million years older, per BBC. The work was showcased at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in the same year.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Viviana Camacho
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Viviana Camacho

The leader of the research team, Professor Barbara Sherwood Lollar, said, "When people think about this water, they assume it must be some tiny amount of water trapped within the rock." She added how it was "bubbling" and flowed at high rates, indicating that the actual volume of the ancient water was more than people thought. The first source was found 2.4 kilometers deep in a mine that contained copper, zinc and silver. Lollar mentioned how it changed the way the team understood the age of flowing water, which prompted them to explore the area more. 

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Francesco Ungaro
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Francesco Ungaro

It also proved to be advantageous to the team that mine went deeper and deeper into the Earth. The second pool was found at a distance of 3 kilometers within the same mine. Tests have revealed that this second source had water, which was at least two billion years old. Such discoveries enable scientists to create more accurate theories about the nature of life on Earth so many years back. They also ended up discovering chemical traces in the water that pinpointed the fact that single-celled organisms used to live in the water.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner

The team found out that the traces were most likely produced by microbiology over a long period. Lollar said, "The microbes that produced this signature couldn't have done it overnight. This isn't just a signature of very modern microbiology." She also added how this was a clear sign that organisms lived in the ancient fluid on a "geological timescale." This discovery also acts as a major milestone in helping researchers gauge whether there could be life on other planets that had oceans, such as Saturn and Jupiter.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

While all these potential findings are immensely beneficial, Lollar was curious about what the ancient water tasted like. She found the water to be "very salty and bitter – much saltier than seawater," as reported by CNN. Some people might find it highly absurd that she decided to taste the ancient water, but for those who don't know, it is a common practice for geologists to rely on their own senses while sampling. Most of the time, they end up working in dark places, so they try a taste of the water, knowing that the saltier the water is, the older it will be.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Polina Tankilevitch
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Polina Tankilevitch

Lollar hilariously commented on this aspect of geology, saying, "If you're a geologist who works with rocks, you've probably licked a lot of rocks." While the salt content serves as a preliminary indicator, more detailed tests have to be done to accurately find out how old the water is. Lollar also shares that the water was not ideal to drink normally. Instead, it was more of a small taste as it was incredibly salty.

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