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Water Origin: Island in Canadian Arctic Reveals H2O Present During Formation Of Earth

Nov 16, 2015 01:43 PM EST
Holuhraun lava field in Iceland
This photo depicts the Holuhraun lava field in Iceland. Rocks analyzed from Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic and from Iceland reveal new insight regarding the origination of water on Earth.
(Photo : Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson)

Lava analyzed from deep within the Earth's mantle reveals new information regarding the origin of the water on our planet. The recent findings suggest Earth's water may have always been on the planet instead of being brought by meteors and asteroids.

In the latest study, Dr. Lydia Hallis, of the University of Glasgow, led a team of researchers in finding that lava samples composed of water-soaked dust grains represent the source of Earth's water. They came to this conclusion after determining the grains were present when the planets were just beginning to form, according to a news release

Researchers can actually learn a lot about the origins of water on any planet by looking at the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio found in core samples. Basically this represents the ratio of hydrogen atoms that have one neutron or no neutron, respectively. A neutron is a particle, sub-atomic in size, that has no net electronic charge.  Over time, this ratio may change based on various factors such as mixing caused by the movement of tectonic plates. However, the water-soaked dust grains that the researchers analyzed had lain unaltered deep within the Earth and were able to preserve the planet's initial D/H ratio. 

The only catch is these "pristine" samples are hard to come by. That is because deep within the Earth, lava flows churn up basalt from the mantle. The recently analyzed samples from Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic maintained their original helium, neon and lead compositions, researchers confirmed. Additionally, the basalt's D/H ratio revealed lower amounts of deuterium than found in previous studies, which provides a new baseline for Earth's original D/H signature.

Their study was recently published in the journal Science

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