posted on 06/07/2022 20:22 / updated on 06/07/2022 20:42
(credit: Oliver Warr/Reproduction)
A group of researchers at the University of Toronto has discovered 1.2 billion-year-old groundwater deep within a gold and uranium mine in Moab Khotsong, South Africa. Radioactive elements and large amounts of helium and hydrogen were found in the water and rocks at the site, essential elements for the creation and maintenance of living beings.
In the scientists’ assessment, the discovery contributes to understanding how life forms survive without access to the Sun’s energy – just as they were recorded in the depths of the Earth, the chemical reactions found may suggest that the process of creating these life generators can also be carried out. on other planets that do not have the ideal conditions of sunlight to maintain living organisms.
Furthermore, finding that high levels of helium are pervasive “deep in the Earth” is an important step, “as global reserves of the element deplete and the transition to more sustainable resources gathers momentum.”
“Think of it as a Pandora’s Box of helium and hydrogen production power, which we can learn to harness for the benefit of the deep biosphere on a global scale,” exemplifies Oliver Warr, Research Associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, which was published July 4 in the journal Nature Communications.
presence of uranium
The material analyzed showed the presence of uranium and other radioactive elements in the rock of the mine, substances that are, in this environment, a kind of “phosphorus” that ignites a process called radiogenic reactions in the rocks and fluids that surround these rocks in the underground depths.
When uranium, thorium and potassium decay on the rock surface, alpha, beta and gamma radiation is created that has ripple effects that trigger radiogenic reactions. According to the researchers, at the mine in South Africa, these reactions are responsible for the appearance of radiogenic helium, neon, argon and xenon; in addition to an unprecedented presence of an isotope of krypton, never seen before in these conditions.
In addition, the study revealed that radiation also “breaks down water molecules in a process called radiolysis, producing large concentrations of hydrogen, an essential energy source for subterranean microbial communities deep within the Earth that are unable to access energy from the environment.” sun for photosynthesis”. Hydrogen is one of the four essential elements, according to experts, for the creation and maintenance of a living being.
“Because radiogenic reactions produce helium and hydrogen, we can not only learn about helium reservoirs and transport, but also calculate the energy flow of hydrogen from deep Earth that can sustain subterranean microbes on a global scale,” says Warr.