Sudbury

Northern Ontario's underground similar to Mars: researchers

A team of researchers has been studying a mine site in Timmins, Ont., that they say shows the Canadian Shield in northern Ontario resembles the underground of Mars.

Recent study sampled ancient water over 2 km below ground at Kidd Mine in Timmins, Ont.

Researchers say the study of ancient water found more than 2 km underground in a Timmins, Ont. mine has uncovered micro-organisms. (J. Telling)

A team of researchers has been studying a mine site in Timmins, Ont., that they say shows the Canadian Shield in northern Ontario resembles the underground of Mars.

A team of geochemists has been taking ancient water samples almost 2.5 kilometres below ground at Glencore's Kidd Mine.

They've found a number of similarities between the Canadian Shield and billion year-old rock formations on the red planet — and it's that similarity that's allowed researchers to uncover some clues to what may lie beneath Mars' surface.

The northern Ontario study was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Toronto. (NSERC)

"If one is interested in understanding whether or not there might be flowing water deep in the subsurface of Mars, that might contain enough energy to have sustained life ... then it is very important to take a look at geologically similar analogs on this planet," said Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a professor of earth sciences at the University of Toronto.

Researchers were testing the water, which was found to have a mean residence time of 1 to 1.6 billion years.

Sherwood Lollor said they found evidence for the activity of microbes, through indirect evidence, but she said the direct microbiological evidence is still to come.

Now, scientists are saying the water contains sulphur which combines with minerals from the rock to form energy.
Long Li is a researcher studying the ancient water and micro-organisms found in a Timmins, Ont. mine. (L. Li UToronto 2012)

It's that energy that's allowed the sub-surface life forms to survive, said Long Li, one of the researchers.

"You have to get the right mineral to interact with the water to produce the sulphate," he said.

Studying old mine sites for rocks and water is a tool scientists have to help study the sub-surface of other planets, and could be useful to help further study of Mars.

Studying gold mines in South Africa have yielded similar results, Sherwood Lollar said.

With files from Angela Gemmill.

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