Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

It's what underneath that counts
by Staff Writers
Edmonton, Canada (SPX) Oct 31, 2016

File image.

To the naked eye, ancient rocks may look completely inhospitable, but in reality, they can sustain an entire ecosystem of microbial communities in their fracture waters isolated from sunlight for millions, if not billions, of years. New scientific findings discovered the source of the essential energy to sustain the life kilometers below Earth's surface with implications for life not only on our planet but also on Mars.

The two essential substances used by the deep subsurface microbes are hydrogen and sulfate dissolved in the fracture water. There is a basic understanding that reactions between the water and minerals in the rock produce hydrogen, but what about sulfate?

"We are very interested in the source of sulfate and how sustainable it is in those long isolated fracture water systems" says Long Li, assistant professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Canada Research Chair in Stable Isotope Geochemistry.

Li - who worked as postdoctoral fellow with Barbara Sherwood Lollar, professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Toronto and Boswell Wing in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University - examined the relative ratios of several types of sulfur atoms that have different neutron numbers, namely sulfur isotopes, in the dissolved sulfate in the billion-year-old water collected from 2.4 kilometers below the surface in Timmins, Ontario, Canada. They observed a unique distribution pattern called sulfur isotope mass-independent fractionation.

"To date this signature of ancient Earth sulfur has only been found in rocks and minerals," says Sherwood Lollar. "Based on the match in the isotopic signature between the dissolved sulfate and the pyrite minerals in the 2.7 billion year old host rocks, we demonstrated that the sulfate was produced by oxidation of sulfide minerals in the host rocks by oxidants generated by radiolysis of water.

"The same pyrite and other sulfide ores that make these rocks ideal for economic mining of metals, produce the 'fuel' for microbial metabolisms."

The authors demonstrate that the sulfate in this ancient water is not modern sulfate from surface water flowing down, but instead, just like the hydrogen, is actually produced in place by reaction between the water and the wall rock. What this means is that the reaction will occur naturally and can persist for as long as the water and rock are in contact, potentially billions of years.

"The wow factor is high," says Li, who explains that billion-year-old rocks, exposed or unexposed, compose more than half of Earth's continental crust. "If geological processes can naturally supply a steady energy source in these rocks, the modern terrestrial subsurface biosphere may expand significantly both in breadth and depth."

Some locations on Mars have similar mineral assemblages to the rocks in Timmins. This allows the scientists to speculate that microbial life can indeed be supported on Mars.

"Because this is a fairly common geological setting on modern Mars, we think that as long as the right minerals and liquid water are present, maybe kilometers below the Martian surface, they may interact and produce energy for life, if there is any."

Li concludes that if there is any life on Mars right now - a question that has long piqued people's curiosity - the best bet is to look below the surface.

"Sulfur mass-independent fractionation in subsurface fracture waters indicates a long-standing sulfur cycle in Precambrian rocks" appeared in the October 27 issue of Nature Communications, an open access journal part of the Nature group of publications.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
University of Alberta
Earth Observation News - Suppiliers, Technology and Application

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Studies offer new glimpse of melting under Antarctic glaciers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Oct 27, 2016
Two new studies by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), detect the fastest ongoing rates of glacier retreat ever observed in West Antarctica and offer an unprecedented direct view of intense ice melting from the floating undersides of glaciers. The results highlight how the interaction between ocean conditions and the bedrock beneath a glacier can influence the gla ... read more

No Balloons for JPL's Birthday, Just a 'Satelloon'

Urine may be the X factor to exploring deep space

US, Russian, Japanese astronauts return from ISS

Team braves wildlife, dust and darkness to find safe home for abandoned records

SpaceX zeroes in on helium containers for rocket explosion

Proven engine packs big, in-space punch for Space Launch System

Boosting Europe's all-electric satellites

Guiding Supply Ship to the International Space Station

Detailed images of Schiaparelli and its descent hardware on Mars

Cursed not, Difficult yes

Did it crash or land? Search on for Europe's Mars craft

Rover Conducting Science Investigations at 'Spirit Mount'

US, China hold second meeting on advancing space cooperation

China to enhance space capabilities with launch of Shenzhou-11

Ambitious space satellite projects set for liftoff

China's permanent station plans ride on mission

Dream coming true for ISS-bound rookie French astronaut

Airbus DS contracts with Intelsat General for European Defence Communications

Final exams prepare Thomas Pesquet for launch

Airbus DS in partnership with Orbital ATK to build EUTELSAT 5 West B

With new model, buildings may 'sense' internal damage

3-D-printed permanent magnets outperform conventional versions, conserve rare materials

New tech uses electricity to track water, ID potential problems in concrete

Nickel-78 is a doubly magic isotope supercomputer confirms

How Planets Like Jupiter Form

Giant Rings Around Exoplanet Turn in the Wrong Direction

Preferentially Earth-sized Planets with Lots of Water

Potential new hunting ground for exoplanets discovered

Last Bits of 2015 Pluto Flyby Data Received on Earth

Uranus may have two undiscovered moons

Possible Clouds on Pluto, Next Target is Reddish

Curious tilt of the Sun traced to undiscovered planet

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement