Eau non potable

What do you do if you discover water which is half as old as the planet you’re standing on? If I’m honest, my own first compulsion would not be to taste it. But then, I’m not a geologist.

Errrr... It's ok. I'm not thirsty.

Interestingly enough, this water has been isolated from the rest of the planet for at least a billion years, and possibly as many as 2.64 billion years. Trapped in a deep fracture in the Earth’s crust, this water had been encased in rock since the precambrian era. The entire time life on Earth had evolved soft-bodied sea creatures, to creatures which walk on land, to dinosaurs, to us – that entire time – this water has been lying deep below the planet’s surface. That’s pretty amazing.

This particular tract of Earth’s crust is in a mine in what is now Canada. When the rocks formed though, they were on the floor of an ocean which has long since vanished from the world. The whole fascinating story can be gleaned from National Geographic, and from the journal paper published in Nature.

Really though, the bit that puzzles me is who exactly decided it would be a good idea to taste it. I don’t think that was ever going to end well. I mean, this water has to have been absorbing minerals from the rocks for billions of years. The geologist’s description of it makes it sound… unpleasant.

“What jumps out at you first is the saltiness. Because of the reactions between the water and the rock, it is extremely salty. It is more viscous than tap water. It has the consistency of a very light maple syrup. It doesn’t have color when it comes out, but as soon as it comes into contact with oxygen it turns an orangey color because the minerals in it begin to form — especially the iron.”
– Barbara Sherwood Lollar

Lollar is one of the authors of the research paper, who described this water as being “much saltier than sea water.” Not too surprising. It could have been worse though

Pretty much everything I work with would probably be lot more lethal to taste. Or it would be photons. Feel free to make up your own joke about having a light snack.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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2 Responses to Eau non potable

  1. Baribal says:

    Considering that my first thought to the introductory question was “gas spectroscopy”, maybe I should consider a late career in chemistry.

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