Friday, 28 October 2016

'Alien' Life Beneath Canada?

Kidd Creek Mine, Timmins, Ontario.
Sulfur mass-independent fractionation in subsurface fracture waters indicates a long-standing sulfur cycle in Precambrian rocks : Nature Communications.

According to research results publish open access in Nature Communications yesterday, there could be life in water which has been isolated in rocks deep below Earth's surface for at least 1 billion years and possibly 2.7 billion years, i.e for maybe half the life of the planet.

This water, which is now seeping to the deep Kidd Creek mine 2.4 Km below Timmins, Northern Ontario, Canada, had been shown to have been isolated for this long in 2013. What is new in yesterday's report is the news that this water is capable of sustaining sulphur-based life similar to that found elsewhere in isolated subsurface water. Bacterial life has been found in similar structures in South Africa but this, if proven, would be ten times older.

The discovery of hydrogen-rich waters preserved below the Earth’s surface in Precambrian rocks worldwide expands our understanding of the habitability of the terrestrial subsurface. Many deep microbial ecosystems in these waters survive by coupling hydrogen oxidation to sulfate reduction. Hydrogen originates from water–rock reactions including serpentinization and radiolytic decomposition of water induced by decay of radioactive elements in the host rocks. The origin of dissolved sulfate, however, remains unknown. Here we report, from anoxic saline fracture waters ∼2.4 km below surface in the Canadian Shield, a sulfur mass-independent fractionation signal in dissolved sulfate. We demonstrate that this sulfate most likely originates from oxidation of sulfide minerals in the Archaean host rocks through the action of dissolved oxidants (for example, HO· and H2O2) themselves derived from radiolysis of water, thereby providing a coherent long-term mechanism capable of supplying both an essential electron donor (H2) and a complementary acceptor (sulfate) for the deep biosphere.

L. Li, B. A. Wing, T. H. Bui, J. M. McDermott, G. F. Slater et al.
Sulfur mass-independent fractionation in subsurface fracture waters indicates a long-standing sulfur cycle in Precambrian rocks
Nature Communications 7
, Article number: 13252 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms13252

Copyright © 2016 Nature Publishing Group.
Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).

This continues to open up our idea of how much of this planet is habitable... and it speaks to the habitability of Mars as well.

Barbara Sherwood Lollar, senior researcher on the team.
The source of energy which is known to be able to sustain life in the absence of sunlight is sulphate. This is believed to be produced when sulphur in the rocks reacts with the oxygen released when a water molecule is split into hydrogen and oxygen by radioactivity originating radioactive isotopes in the rocks. What was surprising however was that the amount of sulphate in the water was between 100 and 1000 times less than would be expected from laboratory experiments. An explanation for this is that it is being used up by bacteria.

Regardless of whether this intriguing possibility is realised, the existence of life in and under the surface of Earth in a range of extreme conditions shows that, far from the the Universe and Earth in particular being fine-tuned for life to exist in a very narrow range of parameters, in fact, life can exist in a very wide range of conditions. Many, if not most of which, would be quickly lethal for human life, supposedly, according to creationist dogma, the purpose of it all.

The availability of chemical energy originating from the decay of radioactive isotopes also illustrates the misrepresentation by creationist frauds of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Since subsurface energy is available, just as it is from the sun on and near the surface, then a local decrease in entropy deep underground in total darkness does not contravene basic laws of physics.

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