Recent papers by distinguished universities suggest that the amount of water below the surface of the planet is far more vast and lies far deeper than previously thought.
When we think of ways the world could end, most would usually point to nuclear apocalypse, global warming or asteroid collision as our biggest threat. What people rarely understand, and what scientists are just starting to study, is the water below the surface of the planet that could cause huge problems with our fragile environment if it changes or escapes.
The surface of our home, planet Earth, is mostly covered by water that is responsible for sustaining life as wse know it. What we only recently discovered is that a great deal of water is stored under the surface. New studies have theorized that water lies around 1000km below the surface, although the deepest we’ve ever actually been is about 12km before the heat and pressure made drilling impossible. It is theorized that this subsurface water plays and important role in the planets geodynamic activity. Should this water manage to evaporate, these activities, including volcanos, could cease to exist and cause the planet to get a bit chilly.
The first paper suggests that more water is stored below the surface than we previously imagined. The water is stored in a mineral known as brucite. The research was conducted by experts at University of Edinburgh and Florida State University. They state that whilst the amount of water is undeterminable, they believe it could be as much as is contained in all the oceans combined.
We didn’t think water could be stored by hydrous minerals such as brucite at these depths. But now that we know it’s there, we need to figure out how much water could be effectively stored inside it. – Mainak Mookherjee
Another study conducted at the same time suggests that the water is buried deeper than we thought and could be as far as a third of the way to the center of the planet. The Northwestern University in Illinois used a Brazilian diamond as part of their evidence. The diamond came from a volcano near São Luíz River in Juina, Brazil. The diamond was formed slightly different to others, and when tested it was found to contain hydroxyl ions; usually a byproduct of water.
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So exciting stuff huh?…
We have believed for some time that the water below the surface of the planet plays a significant part in sustaining geological activity. After the studies, we think we might know a little more about the process.
‘Water in the Earth’s interior is crucial since it helps in mantle convection- a process by which solid rocks move from hotter to colder regions over geological time scales. If there were no water in the Earth’s interior, mantle convection would be inefficient and would eventually cease. The surface expression of the mantle convection is plate motion/tectonics will also stop. Volcanoes play an important role in generating the Earth’s crust on which we live. So if volcanic activity ceases then the crust formation will also stop and the planetary activities will eventually stop.’ – Mainak Mookherjee
The paper indicates that water below the surface has an important role in weakening the rock, and therefore helps the moving tectonic plates. It is thought that the water might act as a lubricant to allow smoother plate movement. Since ‘The Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ was not strictly factual and we can’t just head down to check, the Brazilian diamond is the best evidence we currently have .
The experts think that the brucite may go through a transition and transport water deeper underground without breaking down. Usually, we think, brucite is fairly unstable and decomposes as it goes further underground. As they decompose, the water trapped within the brucite is released and travels back to the surface. One of the main points during the study points to brucite going through a transition and holding water deeper than previously imagined.
If something changed underground, and the water didn’t hold stay within the brucite, the entire system could break down. Whilst we may imagine volcanic activity to be a hindrance, we are actually pretty reliant on it for soil and for the heat in the ground. If the water underground were to stop promoting volcanic activity, our lives would quickly come to a halt. It is, however, thought to be extremely unlikely so you should still go into work tomorrow. Sorry guys.
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