Scientists Discover Evidence of Water Deep Beneath Earth's Surface

Saturday, 14 Jun 2014 11:33 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Scientists have discovered evidence of a reservoir of water three times the size of the world's oceans hidden hundreds of miles beneath the surface of the earth.

The water isn't in liquid form quite yet, say researchers from Northwestern university and the University of New Mexico, but the ingredients are in rock deep inside the earth's mantle beneath the United States, reports The Times of India.

According to Northernwestern University geophysicist Steve Jacobsen and University of New Mexico seismologist Brandon Schmandt, there are deep pockets of magma about 400 miles below the surface of North America, which signify the presence of water.

"I think we are finally seeing evidence for a whole-earth water cycle, which may help explain the vast amount of liquid water on the surface of our habitable planet," said Jacobsen. "Scientists have been looking for this missing deep water for decades."

For years, scientists speculated water is trapped between the lower mantle and the upper mantle of the Earth at depths of between 250 and 410 miles, but Schmandt and Jacobsen, whose report was published in the journal Science, are the first with evidence to support the idea.

The scientists combined lab experiments done by Jacobsen, who studied mantle rock under high pressure simulating conditions at 400 miles below the surface of the earth and studies from Schmandt that used data from the USArray, a network of more than 2,000 seismometers.

The evidence shows melting may occur in the earth's mantle, and H2O, the components of water, may be a key part of the process.

Jacobsen's and Schmandt's findings converged to produce evidence that melting may occur about 400 miles deep in the earth. H2O stored in mantle rocks, such as those containing the mineral ringwoodite, likely is the key to the process.

"Melting of rock at this depth is remarkable because most melting in the mantle occurs much shallower, in the upper 50 miles," said Schmandt. "If there is a substantial amount of H2O in the transition zone, then some melting should take place in areas where there is flow into the lower mantle, and that is consistent with what we found."

And if only one percent of the mantle rock's weight is H2O, it would equal nearly three times the amount of water in the world's oceans, the scientists said.

They based their discovery after other scientists discovered a piece of the mineral ringwoodite inside a diamond brought up from 400 miles deep by a Brazilian volcano. The ringwoodite had a great deal of water in solid form.

"The ringwoodite is like a sponge, soaking up water," Jacobsen said. "There is something very special about the crystal structure of ringwoodite that allows it to attract hydrogen and trap water. This mineral can contain a lot of water under conditions of the deep mantle."

Jacobsen said that the solid form of water trapped beneath the earth may have another purpose: keeping the world as we know it, reports The Guardian

The hidden water might also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface of the earth, keeping them the same size for millions of years.

"If [the stored water] wasn't there, it would be on the surface of the Earth, and mountaintops would be the only land poking out," he said.

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