Researchers working 2.4 kilometers below Earth's surface in a Canadian mine have discovered a source of water that has remained isolated for at least one billion years.
The scientists say that they are not yet sure if anything has been living in the water all this time, however the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen, which are requirements for supporting life.
Micrometer-scale pockets in minerals that are billions of years old are capable of holding water that was trapped during the minerals' formation, however no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth's crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years.
Chris Ballentine, a geochemist at the University of Manchester, and his team carefully captured water flowing through fractures in the 2.7-billion-year-old sulphide deposits in a copper and zinc mine near Timmins, Ontario. This ensures that the water did not come into contact with mine air.
In order to date the water, the researchers used three lines of evidence, all of which were based on the relative abundances of various isotopes of noble gases present in the water. They determined that the fluid couldn't have contacted Earth's atmosphere or have been at the planet's surface for at least 1 billion years, and possibly as long as 2.64 billion years, which is not long after the rocks through which if flowed through formed.