Apparently This Matters: World's oldest water tastes 'terrible'

It's only billions of years old. Have a sip. What could possibly go wrong?

Story highlights

  • Water bubbling up in a mine in Ontario is between 1 billion and 2.6 billion years old
  • Scientist who sipped water says it tastes "terrible"
  • Researchers are still trying to determine if the water could contain microbes
  • One brave scientist tasted horrible prehistoric water so the rest of us didn't have to

At home I drink from the tap. Not so much because I particularly love the taste, but because the automatic water dispenser on my fridge doesn't work.

This, of course, is the primary job of any automatic water dispenser. Not to work.

Seriously. Every fridge I've ever owned. Same thing.

"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

I'm actually starting to think it's all a giant conspiracy orchestrated by the evil hydration overlords at Brita. Don't let their cute little water pitchers fool you.

Though, perhaps my fridge just needs a new filter. That could also be it.

Regardless, swapping one out would require two full minutes of my life and minimal effort. Which sounds awful. So, really, it just makes more sense to ignore the problem and continue living my delightfully mediocre existence.

"Hooray! Everything is only decent!"

Fortunately, I really don't mind the flavor of what's coming out of the tap. It's more or less fresh and clean.

And, most importantly, new.

Because according to a trending science story floating around the interwebs, we now understand that the oldest known water on the planet tastes absolutely "terrible."

There's far more to the story than just that. But the big headline everyone seems to be talking about online is the fact that this really old, prehistoric water shockingly doesn't taste like a mountain spring.

In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a science professor from the University of Toronto, described having a sip.

"What jumps out at you first is the saltiness," she explained. "It has the consistency of a very light maple syrup."

How adorably Canadian.

(Salty? Maple syrup?)

Anyhow, the water, which for years has been bubbling up from a zinc and copper mine in Timmins, Ontario, was only recently dated by scientists who calculated its age to be anywhere from 1 billion to 2.6 billion years old.

Which is quite a wide range. Good for prehistoric science. Bad for casual conversation.

"What a cutie! How old is your daughter?"

"Welp, she's definitely somewhere between 3 and 67."

The point here is that this water is really old. And it doesn't particularly care for kids these days, what with their video games and rap music.

Amazingly, the liquid has been trapped in granitelike rock fissures 1.5 miles underground where it's happily lived beneath the dirt. And as Lollar studied it seeping up within the mine, scientific research eventually led her to taste it.

"We are interested in the saltiest waters because they are the oldest," she told the Los Angeles Times. "Tasting is the quick-and-dirty way to find which are the most salty."

Lollar did, however, insist that she doesn't let her students do it. Which shockingly goes against all human instinct to experience something disgusting and then immediately encourage others to do the same.

"Blech! This cheese tastes like a truck-stop men's room. Here, Dave, have a bite."

Prior to scientists discovering the approximate age of the ancient water found in Canada, the previous record holder came from a South African gold mine. But the water there was only tens of millions of years old.


However, what's really exciting about all this is that, like the South African water, the Canadian liquid might be capable of containing life despite its incredible isolation deep within the earth.

I seriously hope it's overrun with Fraggles.

Of course, what we're actually talking about is tiny microbes. Which, generally speaking, I don't particularly care for.

If you've ever dined on bad street meat in Ko Samui, Thailand, you know that some of these little bastards mean business.

"Yeeeeeah, we're here from that rat you just ate. If you could spend the next five days near a toilet, that would be great."

Lollar speculates that it will take about a year before they can confirm whether or not anything's actually living down there in the fissures, but positive results could have implications that reach beyond even our own planet.

"Scientists have found evidence that there was once water on the surface of Mars," she explains. "It could be that there is water trapped in rock hidden deep beneath the planet's surface in the same way the water was trapped in the ancient rock in the Timmins mine."

Until then, for the next year or so, all we can really do is enjoy the fact that one brave, friendly scientist tasted horrible prehistoric water so the rest of us didn't have to.

How adorably Canadian.

Follow Jarrett Bellini on Twitter.

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