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No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990

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We Live Atop A Chemical Retort

Far down there beneath our feet, the earth's chemicals are bubbling away, aided often by bacteria and other life forms. It's a dark world, but it's also hot, permeated by fluids, and possibly the abode of organisms we haven't dreamed of. Three hints of this nether world follow.

Quick oil. Rather than ripening in deep strata for millions of years, as per prevailing theory, some oil is being created in only a few thousand years in the vicinities of ocean-bottom chimneys. Dimesized oil globules have been sighted floating near these chimneys. Analysis of chunks broken off the chimneys by research submersibles reveal the presence of petroleum-like hydrocarbons that are less than 5000 years old. It is thought that high-temperature fluids percolating up through the sediments convert buried organic matter into oil very rapidly. (Monastersky, R.; "The Quick Recipe for a Soup of Black Gold," Science News, 136:295, 1989.)

Comment. Not mentioned in this article is T. Gold's theory that oil is actually derived from primordial carbon deep in the crust.

Gassy water. Some water wells in Texas also produce much methane. This methane is apparently not related to any oil or gas wells in the region. Rather, surmise has it that bacteria deep in the crust are converting buried organic material into methane and other chemical products. But geologists are confounded by the fact that some water wells are rich in methane while others nearby are devoid of the gas. (Anonymous; "Methane and Ground Water," Geotimes, 34:19, April 1989.)

Comment. As to be expected the possibility of abiogenic methane is ignored.

A really-deep ocean. No, this is not in Tarzan's Pellucidar, but rather an incredible mass of water stored hundreds of kilometers deep in the earth's mantle. Several times the earth's visible surface water may be locked up in water-bearing minerals! Brucite [Mg(OH),2], for example, is 30.86% water. Perhaps such water was released long ago by changes in temperature and pressure to form the present oceans.

(Ahrens, Thomas J.; "Water Storage in the Mantle," Nature, 342:122, 1989.)

Reference. Anomalies surrounding the origin of abiogenic methane are cataloged in ESC16 in the catalog: Anomalies in Geology. To order this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #67, JAN-FEB 1990. � 1990-2000 William R. Corliss