Dr. Graham Pearson of the University of Alberta and the ringwoodtide-containing diamond. (Photo: Richard Siemens/University of Alberta)
If a new study from the University of Alberta is to be believed, the Earth is not just solid rock and hot, hot magma — it's full of water. Lots and lots of water.
The theory, put forward by a research team from the University of Alberta led by professor Graham Pearson, is based on a tiny diamond found in 2008 by a prospector in Brazil's Mato Grosso province. On the diamond, Pearson and his team discovered quantities of ringwoodite, a mineral that's about 1.5 per cent water and that scientists had long suspected made up much of the earth (but could never prove due to a shortage of specimens). Since scientists believe there to be quite a lot of ringwoodite in the Transition Zone — the layer between 410 and 670 kilometres below the earth's surface — Pearson asserts that the zone would naturally contain "a very, very large amount of water."
“The amount of water is possibly up to all the water contained in all the world’s oceans,” said Pearson.
In their study, published this week in the journal Nature, the team writes that the diamond was blasted to the surface by a volcanic eruption. Because of its battered appearance and relative lack of nitrogen, the scientists were able to determine that it came from the Transition Zone.
Along with the published article, the team released this helpful diagram to explain their findings.
While still very much theoretical, the findings are especially significant because of the rarity of the diamond in question. And unforunately, the find isn't likely to aid the people in the world who don't have access to clean water.
"No one is ever going to run a geological field trip to the transition zone 500 km beneath the Earth's surface, and no one is ever going to drill down to the transition zone," said Pearson. "It was a total piece of luck that we found this."
Drilling down that far would take scientists deep into Jules Verne territory:
Of course, this discovery isn't the first time scientists have discovered something so big — and so completely under our noses. In case you missed them, here's a brief recap of two of our recent favourites:
New Water Reserves in Kenya
In September, two large underground reserves of water were found in Kenya, totalling about 250 billion cubic metres of potentially drinkable water. The reserves, which were found by a French water and mineral exploration firm, could be a godsend to a region that is stricken with drought, boosting the country's available water by about 17 per cent. For more details on the discovery, check out the story here.
Grand Canyon in Greenland
In August, scientists discovered a crevice in Greenland that's nearly twice as big as the Grand Canyon. It's sitting just under the ice, and was found by a NASA mission that used ice-penetrating radar to measure the depth of the bedrock underneath the surface. It's believed to have been carved by rivers about four million years ago. You can read more about it here.