The groundwater that was recently discovered deep in a mine in South Africa is estimated to be 1.2 billion years old. The researchers suspect that the groundwater is among the oldest on the planet and that its chemical interactions with the surrounding rock could offer new insights into energy production and storage in the Earth’s crust.
In fact, Oliver Warr, a research associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto in Canada and lead author of a new study on groundwater discovery, described the location in a statement as a “box of Pandora’s helium-and-hydrogen-producing energy.”
According to the study, South African groundwater was also enriched with the highest concentration of radiogenic products – elements produced by radioactivity – yet discovered in fluids, demonstrating that ancient groundwater sites could one day potentially serve as sources of energy.
The gold and uranium The mine, known as Moab Khotsong, lies approximately 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Johannesburg and is home to one of the deepest mine shafts in the world, plunging to depths of 1.86 miles (3 km) below the surface at its deepest, according to the mine (opens in a new tab).
The new discovery follows the earlier discovery of around 1.8 a billion-year-old water table made during a research expedition in 2013 (also led by Warr). This discovery took place at the Kidd Creek mine in Ontario, which lies beneath the Canadian Shield, a geological structure composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks dating from the Precambrian supereon (4.5 billion to 541 million years ago). The Canadian Shield spans 3 million square miles (nearly 8 million square kilometres), and Warr called it a “hidden hydrogeosphere” — an abundance of hydrogen — in a blog post (opens in a new tab) published on July 5.
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“One of the most exciting parts of this new discovery is that at first we thought the Kidd Creek groundwater was an outlier,” Warr told Live Science. “But now we have this brand new site in a different place with a completely different geological history that also preserves fluids on a billion-year time scale. It seems to be a feature of these environments, which make up about 72% of the total continental crust by area.”
So far, “we only had one data point, and it’s kind of hard to say that, yeah, that’s globally applicable,” Warr said. “But this new site has reaffirmed what we believed to be true: that these systems trap water for extremely long durations.”
Warr described the way rocks release this billion-year-old groundwater as similar to how liquid escapes from a water balloon.
“These deep mines are the perfect place for what we do, because as researchers we don’t have the time or the money to dig a hole in the ground, but that’s what a mine does. “When they drill boreholes, the water that’s been trapped inside the rock starts to gush out – it’s like piercing a water balloon – and we’re able to capture it.”
After collecting the samples in Moab Khotsong, Warr and his team of international researchers examined their contents and found that the water contained properties that resembled those of Kidd Creek water.
“In these deep environments, water is held in cracks in the rock and over time they interact, resulting in uranium, which then decays over millions or even billions of years. creating noble gases,” Warr said. As these noble gases accumulate in water, researchers can measure their concentrations and their duration of presence in the rock.
Warr explained that the samples collected contained a high salt content – about eight times that of seawater – as well as concentrations of uranium, radiogenic helium, neon, argon, xenon and krypton. They also discovered the presence of hydrogen and helium, two important energy sources. The discovery offers unprecedented insight into helium diffusion from deep within the planet, an important process to consider as we face an ongoing helium shortage, and could also hint at energy production beneath the surface of other planets, according to the study.
“As long as there is water and rock, you will see the production of helium and hydrogen – and that does not necessarily mean that it has to take place only on Earth“, Warr said. “If there is water under the surface of Mars or any other rocky planet, helium and hydrogen could also be generated there, leading to another source of energy.”
The results were published June 30 in the journal (opens in a new tab)Nature Communication (opens in a new tab).
Originally posted on Live Science.
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