Scientists believe a massive quantity of water is located beneath the surface of the Earth exists due to the discovery of a diamond in a Brazilian waterbed. The tiny, tattered diamond discovered among a bed of gravel along a shallow riverbed provided evidence to the confirmation of a “wet zone” located deep with the Earth that could hold more water than all of the oceans on the surface combined. Though, the water is not ebbing and flowing around within the Earth.
The aforementioned wet zone is not a pristine, beach-lined ocean upon which you could sail a boat; however, the water the harbored within minerals. These minerals are found between 250-400 miles beneath the surface in the transition zone – the depth between in the Earth’s crust and the upper mantle.
Graham Pearson, a geologist at the University of Alberta who studied the diamond, said that he and his colleagues were examining the diamond to locate embedded minerals to determine its age. By chance, Pearson’s team discovered a tiny speck of a deep-earth mineral known as ringwoodite – a mineral that is formed under immense pressure and extreme temperatures. More astonishing than finding ringwoodite in the diamond, they found that the mineral contained water.
“It was a total piece of luck that we found this,” he stated. He explained that the subterranean water-rich area could vastly change scientists’ understanding of the way in which Earth’s geological structures were formed. Scientists would have never been able to confirm the composition of subterranean geology deep with the interior of the planet without the discovery of the diamond. The deepest anyone has ever drilled is a mere 17 miles into the Earth’s crust, just a fraction of the distance from the origin of the diamond.
They believe that the 5 millimeter-long precious stone was blown to the surface from a depth of more than 300 miles below the surface via a volcanic eruption of molten rock called kimberlite. The battle-scarred gem has a soft metallic luster, but it has been eroded and deeply scratched from its fierce journey towards the surface. Scientists estimate that it took a several days for the gem to make its vertical journey at a speed of around 40 miles per hour.
For decades, geologists have hypothesized that ringwoodite accounts for much of the composition of the depths of the Earth, because it is vastly spread underground. However, since the mineral had not been found from the interior, the notion seemed to be a theory at best. Scientists stated that the area in which the ringwoodite was formed in the transition zone, the pressure exceeds 200,000 units of atmospheric pressure, or nearly three million pounds per square inch.
The tests carried out on the ringwoodite determine that about 1.5% of its mass is in water. Although this may sound like a feeble amount, Pearson explained that considering the enormous amount of ringwoodite thought to compose much of the depths of the Earth, the volume of water may exceed the amount contained in all the Earth’s oceans. This totals to greater than one billion billion tons of liquid water.
A vast water aquifer in the mantle could aid geologists in their quest to find an explanation to the oddities observed on the surface. Liquid water located in the depths of the transition zone could escape into magma and bind with the foundation of continental plates and weaken them causing many of the geological phenomena observed on the surface. Furthermore, water could cause the rock to swell and create a rising motion that would aid in the creation of volcanoes in weak areas in the tectonic plates.
Scientists say that at the very least, there are local hydrous mantle areas in the interior of the planet. Pearson stated that the beauty of the discovery is that the diamond allows researchers to study a sample from the vast depths of the Earth. While the location of a seven seas equivalent of water below the surface of the Earth does not promise to add to a short supply of fresh water in the surface, the water-bearing diamond found beneath Earth’s surface is still a truly astonishing discovery.
By: Alex Lemieux