Ancient History

The World's Oldest Known Pool of Water Is a Staggering 2 Billion Years Old

Water doesn't ever "go bad." Regardless, we wouldn't recommend drinking from the oldest pool of water ever discovered. This water predates the development of multicellular life on Earth, after all. So, yeah, better not risk it. Take one look at the 2-billion-year-old puddle and you'll probably agree.

This Water Has Seen Some Stuff

In 2013, University of Toronto researchers discovered 1.5 billion-year-old water in Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins, Ontario, Canada. Then, the same Canadian geoscientists one-upped themselves in 2016. The team went back to the same game-changing Canadian copper, zinc, and silver mine and dug down a little further.

What they found, about 2 miles down, was a pool of 2-billion-year-old water bubbling up like an eager young spring. Oh, hello there. Just how old is that? Earth's atmosphere was virtually devoid of oxygen 2 billion years ago (shout out to the Precambrian). Multicellular life didn't get going until 600 million years ago. The results of this study were published in October 2016 in Nature Communications.

... Aliens

Ancient water is more than just a cool geological record-breaker. This water contains sulfates that were borne of a chemical reaction between the rocks and the water. And, long story short, where there are sulfates, there could be life. Because the area made its own sulfates, that means it could be sufficient in sustaining microbial life completely cut off from the surface. "The wow factor is high," one of the researchers, Long Li from the University of Alberta, said in a press release.

"If geological processes can naturally supply a steady energy source in these rocks, the modern terrestrial subsurface biosphere may expand significantly both in breadth and depth." Translation? More places on Earth and on other planets may be habitable than we previously thought. We're ready for you, aliens!

Now for the question that everyone is thinking but no one is asking: Could you, uh, drink the ancient water? "It won't kill you if you drank it," Barbara Sherwood Lollar, team lead of the 2013 study, told the BBC, "but it would taste absolutely disgusting." She should know, Lollar dipped her finger in the 1.5-billion-year-old pool and tasted it. She found it "very salty and bitter — much saltier than seawater." Why would she do that? Scientists use their sense of taste to learn all kinds of things.

Written by Joanie Faletto October 19, 2017

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