86Kr excess and other noble gases identify a billion-year-old radiogenically-enriched groundwater system

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Journal Article
Deep within the Precambrian basement rocks of the Earth, groundwaters can sustain subsurface microbial communities, and are targets of investigation both for geologic storage of carbon and/or nuclear waste, and for new reservoirs of rapidly depleting resources of helium. Noble gas-derived residence times have revealed deep hydrological settings where groundwaters are preserved on millions to billion-year timescales. Here we report groundwaters enriched in the highest concentrations of radiogenic products yet discovered in fluids, with an associated 86Kr excess in the free fluid, and residence times >1 billion years. This brine, from a South African gold mine 3 km below surface, demonstrates that ancient groundwaters preserved in the deep continental crust on billion-year geologic timescales may be more widespread than previously understood. The findings have implications beyond Earth, where on rocky planets such as Mars, subsurface water may persist on long timescales despite surface conditions that no longer provide a habitable zone. © 2022, The Author(s).
Nature Communications