Is the Oldest Water on Earth Drinkable and Habitable? It is Saltier than Sea Water and Tastes ‘Terrible’

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Last month, a paper published in Nature reported on some water that had been trapped 1.5 miles below the Earth’s surface in Canada for a long while. How long? Based on an analysis of the isotopes of natural gases in the water, scientists believe it to be the oldest isolated water ever studied, at least 1 billion years old and maybe as old as 2.64 billion, slightly younger than the rocks that encased it. In other terms, this water has been sealed away, unexposed to the atmosphere for maybe half as long as the Earth’s entire existence.

Is it drinkable? The answer: Not really, but a sip won’t kill you. According to an interview in the Los Angeles Times, one of the paper’s authors, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, has tasted it, and it was “terrible,” she reports. “It is much saltier than seawater.”

Her description of its appearance doesn’t make it sound very appetizing either:

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 orangy color because the minerals in it begin to form — especially the iron.

Is there life in this billion-year-old water? Lollar thinks it’s possible since the water has the same kind of energy that supports the microbial life found near deep-sea vents and in the South African gold mine and it has been shown that these waters are habitable. The next question is whether or not they are inhabited. And if they are, the question will become what’s living there and when did it arrive.

Next astrobiological results will be published in approximately a year.

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