Deep fracture fluids isolated in the crust since the Precambrian era
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Fluids trapped as inclusions within minerals can be billions of years old and preserve a record of the fluid chemistry and environment at the time of mineralization. Aqueous fluids that have had a similar residence time at mineral interfaces and in fractures (fracture fluids) have not been previously identified. Expulsion of fracture fluids from basement systems with low connectivity occurs through deformation and fracturing of the brittle crust. The fractal nature of this process must, at some scale, preserve pockets of interconnected fluid from the earliest crustal history. In one such system, 2.8 kilometres below the surface in a South African gold mine, extant chemoautotrophic microbes have been identified in fluids isolated from the photosphere on timescales of tens of millions of years. Deep fracture fluids with similar chemistry have been found in a mine in the Timmins, Ontario, area of the Canadian Precambrian Shield. Here we show that excesses of (124)Xe, (126)Xe and (128)Xe in the Timmins mine fluids can be linked to xenon isotope changes in the ancient atmosphere and used to calculate a minimum mean residence time for this fluid of about 1.5 billion years. Further evidence of an ancient fluid system is found in (129)Xe excesses that, owing to the absence of any identifiable mantle input, are probably sourced in sediments and extracted by fluid migration processes operating during or shortly after mineralization at around 2.64 billion years ago. We also provide closed-system radiogenic noble-gas ((4)He, (21)Ne, (40)Ar, (136)Xe) residence times. Together, the different noble gases show that ancient pockets of water can survive the crustal fracturing process and remain in the crust for billions of years.
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