Researchers have discovered underground water dating back to 1.2 billion years ago
In a mine in South Africa, researchers recently discovered something amazing, groundwater that was held in rock for 1.2 billion years. Scientists believe it is one of the oldest groundwater on Earth. The chemical interactions between this water and the rock that surrounds it could offer new perspectives about the production and storage of energy using the earth’s crust.
According to Oliver Warr, a researcher in the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto in Canada, and first author of the new study, the place where this water was found is a kind of “Pandora’s box of energy production at from helium and hydrogen. Groundwater was indeed rich in helium and hydrogenbut scientists have also discovered that it contained high levels of radiogenic material. The latter are the elements produced by radioactivity.
The mine where the discovery was made is called the mine Moab Khotsong. It is about 161 km from Johannesburg and is mined for gold and uranium. This mine is famous for hosting the deepest mine shafts in the world, plunging to depths of up to 3 km below the surface.
Not a first
This is not the first time that groundwater has been discovered over a billion years old. During of an expedition also led by Warr in 2013he and his team discovered groundwater from 1.8 billion years ago at the Kidd Creek mine in Ontario.
According to Warr, what makes the new discovery in South Africa so interesting is the fact that at first they believed the groundwater at Kidd Creek was an aberration. Now there is this new site located in a totally different place with a completely different geological history that has preserved fluid for over a billion years. According to him, it seems to be of a characteristic of this type of environment which represents approximately 72% of the total continental crust on the surface.
Warr added that so far they only had one source of data, and it was difficult to say that this phenomenon is applicable to the whole planet. Thanks to this discovery, we can now say that these systems trap water for extremely long periods of time.
The results of the analyzes
By analyzing samples taken from Moab Khotsong, scientists found that the properties of the fluid resembled those of water taken from Kidd Creek. Warr explains that in these very deep places, water is held in cracks in the rock, and over time, these two elements interact. This produces uranium which will decay over millions or even billions of years and create noble gases. It is possible to measure the concentrations of these noble gases and the length of time they have been present in the rock.
According to the results of the analyses, the samples collected at Moab Khotsong contain approximately 8 times more salt than seawater. There are also concentrations of uranium, radiogenic helium, neon, argon, xenon, and krypton. Helium and hydrogen are also present.
According to the researchers, this discovery offers unprecedented insight into the diffusion of helium from the depths of the planet. This is a process that should be considered, especially since we are currently experiencing a shortage of helium. We could also use this process to energy production on another planet.
Warr explains that as long as there is water and rock, there will be production of helium and hydrogen. If there is water in the undergrounds of Mars or other rocky planets, it will be possible to produce helium and hydrogen there, which represents another source of energy.