Dr Barbara Sherwood Lollar of the University of Toronto has extracted from a Canadian mine water that is 1.6 billion years old.
When Barbara Sherwood Lollar sent water samples to a colleague at the University of Oxford for testing, she knew this was no ordinary water. The geochemist had spent much of her career wandering around some of the deepest mines in the world, finding and extracting water that was millions of years old. The billion-year-old liquid’s dead giveaway is its musty smell. It is highly saline fluid—up to 10 times saltier than sea water. Scientists found that chemolithotrophic microbes– bacteria that can thrive in the most extreme surroundings– had been able to survive in the subterranean liquid.
Researchers found that the microbes had been feeding on nitrogen and sulphate, and that the chemistry that supported them bore resemblance to ocean beds that are known to support similar such extreme life forms.
As it happens, the Canadian Shield, on which the Kidd mine is located, in the past used to form an ocean floor, as per the report. Over millions of years of flux, however, its horizontal seabed became vertical, now preserved in the mine’s rock walls from which the water sample was extracted.