More water than you could ever imagine… right beneath your feet!

May 30th, 2014

More water than you could ever imagine… right beneath your feet!

by Jerry Alonzy

6536920825_1008aa0a92Image via Sergiu Bacioiu (Flickr)

In 1864, Jules Verne imagined an ocean where few men had ever been. Harry (or Axel, depending on the translation from the French you are reading) is the nephew of Professor Hardwigg, the discoverer of a document chronicling the voyage of Arne Saknussemm to the earth’s center. He stares dumbfounded at the vast body of water before him, illuminated by some seemingly magical force.

“I stood still, far more stupefied than astonished. Not all the wildest effects of imagination could have conjured up such as scene! ‘The sea – the sea,’ I cried.”

Yes, it was a sea far beneath the earth. “A vast, limitless expanse of water, the end of a lake if not of an ocean, spread before us, until it was lost in the distance.”

In one of his most well-known tales, “A Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Verne imagined a vast underground sea, a water source for uncountable species of plant and animal life unencumbered by the vagaries of our terrene climate and the rules of evolution. Could a body of clean, fresh water really exist deep within the earth to become the life force to a subterranean world?

So far, the answer is maybe… or maybe not, if you’re a glass-half-full sort of person! Yet some recent discoveries could indicate that such an ocean may indeed exist, if not in exactly the form you might think – and definitely without the giant mushrooms and dinosaurs!

It all hinges on the discovery in 2008 of a brown diamond in Brazil by a team of scientists led by Professor Graham Pearson of the University of Alberta, Canada. The diamond was purchased for $20 from some local miners exploring river beds for valuable minerals. The diamond itself had little value except for scientific purposes and wasn’t thought to be anything special – that is, not until one of Pearson’s graduate students was examining it and found a tiny sample of a mineral that had only been postulated but never discovered: ringwoodite.

Ringwoodite is believed to exist in large quantities deep in the earth, hundreds of miles deep, in what scientists call the transition zone between the upper and lower mantles. Considering that the earth is almost 8,000 miles in diameter, we can definitively say that this water is not at the center of the earth, which stands to reason, since the temperature at the center of the earth is around 6,000 degrees Celsius or 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit, far too hot for liquid water to exist. (Science 1, science fiction 0.)

Ringwoodite has the unique quality of being able to store water like a sponge. This particular sample, according to their report, contained about 1.5% water by weight. It is believed to have originated from volcanic activity, which brought it up from great depths to the earth’s surface. Only centuries of erosion exposed it to the young scientist!

So just how much ringwoodite could there be? Speculation is that most, if not all, of this transition area could be formed from ringwoodite and similar absorbent minerals. If this is true, it is possible that up to half of all water that exists on the planet is within this 125-mile transition zone!

So where did all of this water come from? Some scientists speculate that the vast quantity of water within the ringwoodite could have come from the oceans themselves, where at the deepest depths the earth’s mantle is exposed. Perhaps the earth at some time in the past was covered in water, and this water was absorbed by the earth itself through these fault lines at the ocean’s depths!

Or maybe not. Scientific study is just that – study. Few ideas in science are set in stone (I couldn’t resist). New discoveries can as easily demolish old theories as they can support them, and when it comes to determining the composition of the earth, theories abound but evidence is flimsy.

But that is what the scientific method is all about – coming up with a theory (how you think something works) and then proving or disproving it. Theories are not facts (one fact that is lost in some current pop-science debates). They are speculations that must be proven over and over again until the proof is so overwhelming that we can feel comfortable assuming the theory is correct.

Each time you drive up a hill in your car, you assume, based on your experience, that the road does not suddenly disappear as you cross over the top. In a similar way, theories give us some comfort that we may understand this vast world – that is until we know better!

One thing is for sure. Discoveries such as this spur greater interest and perhaps will lead to even a greater understanding of our planet, as more scientists try to find ways to reach the perilous subterranean depths of the little rock we call home.

Here are a few links you might find interesting:


Author information:
Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation. As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites, including his own at

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