Researchers have found the sources of life's energy in the Earth's earliest groundwaters.

In Moab Khotsong, South Africa, a gold and uranium mine was discovered to contain groundwater that was 1.2 billion years old. This discovery provides new insight into how organisms are preserved beneath the Earth’s crust and how they might persist on certain planets. The results were confirmed previously this week in the journal Nature Communications. Oliver Warr, the study’s principal author and a research associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto, says, “For the very 1st┬átime, we have insights into just how energy stored down inside the Earth’s core may be liberated &┬ádisseminated more widely throughout its crust over time.” “Imagining it as a Pandora’s Box with the power to produce helium & hydrogen that we may learn to utilize for the global sake of the deeper biosphere.”

According to Barbara Sherwood Lollar, senior author and professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto, “10 years ago, researchers found billion-year-old groundwater beneath the Canadian Shield – it looks that this was merely the beginning.” “In Moab Khotsong, 2.9 km underneath the Earth’s surface, we discovered that the farthest extremities of the world’s water cycle are much more common than previously thought.”Uranium, and other radioactive element, naturally occur in surrounding rocks that contain mineral and ore deposits. These elements provide new information on groundwater’s power generation for cohabiting microorganisms previously found in Earth’s deep subsurface. Radiogenic reactions are when elements such as uranium and thorium, along with potassium, decay in the subsurface.

Researchers discovered large quantities of radiogenic Helium, neon, Argon, Xenon, and the remarkable discovery of an Isotope of Krypton, which was a tracer of this powerful reaction. Radiolysis is a radioactive process that breaks down water molecules. This produces large amounts of hydrogen. It is an important energy source for subsurface communities below the Earth’s surface that cannot access the sun’s energy for photosynthesis. Because of their low masses, neon and helium are highly useful for determining and measuring transport capacity. Although groundwaters are extremely uncommon and resilient, diffusion can still occur due to their 1.2 billion-year age. According to Warr, solid materials such as plastic, stainless steel, and solid boulders can ultimately be punctured by diffusing Helium, analogous to the deflation of a helium-filled balloon. According to our findings, 75 to 82 percent to 85 percent of the helium and neon generated by radiogenic processes can seep through the crust.

Researches emphasize the importance of new understandings into how much Helium diffuses from Earth. This is important as global helium supplies decrease and shifts to more sustainable resources take root. Warr says that humans are not the only living organism that depends on energy from the Earth’s surface. Radiogenic processes can produce both hydrogen and Helium. This allows us to learn more about helium storage, transport, and determine how much hydrogen flux is available from deep Earth to feed bacteria globally. Warr says that these calculations are essential for understanding subsurface life on Earth as well as how radiogenic-driven energies on other planets and moons in the solar system and beyond. These data will be used to inform future missions to Mars and Titan, as well as Enceladus. C.J. C.J. Additional co-authors include Ballentine from the University of Oxford and researchers at Princeton University and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.