Earth Should Be Dry – An Unexpected Meteorite Discovery Reveals the Origin of Earth’s Vast Oceans

Earth's Oceans

Meteorite material presumed to be devoid of water because it formed in the dry inner Solar System appears to have contained sufficient hydrogen to have delivered to Earth at least three times the mass of water in its oceans, a new study shows.

While the idea that enstatite chondrite (EC) meteorites contained enough hydrogen to provide water to the growing proto-Earth has been proposed, efforts to rigorously test this scenario have been hampered by difficulties in measuring hydrogen concentrations in ECs — an obstacle this study overcame.

According to models of Solar System formation, Earth should be dry. However, our blue planet’s vast oceans, humid atmosphere and well-hydrated geology boldly defy such predictions, making it unique among the other rocky planets of the inner Solar System.

Thus, while debated, the origin of Earth’s water remains unknown.

Enstatite chondrite meteorites — space rocks forged from the nebula that formed the Solar System — are known to be representative of the rocks from which Earth was built. However, because ECs formed close to the sun, where conditions were too warm for water ice to survive, ECs have been assumed to be too dry to account for Earth’s rich reservoirs of water. As such, Earth’s water is therefore generally thought to be a late addition following the planet’s formation, delivered by more hydrated materials like carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which originated in the outer solar system where water was more abundant.

To constrain the uncertainties surrounding the origin of Earth’s water, Laurette Piani and colleagues measured the hydrogen content and deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio in thirteen EC meteorites, finding that ECs harbor far more hydrogen than previously assumed. Following further analyses involving modeling of Earth’s formation that involved mixing of chondrite-like materials, the authors estimate that the EC-like materials that coalesced during the planet’s early formation could have delivered enough hydrogen to the growing proto-Earth to provide at least three times the amount of water in Earth’s present-day oceans.

The D/H ratio and nitrogen isotope compositions of the analyzed ECs closely align with those of the Earth’s mantle, supporting Piani et al.’s claims that the origins of Earth’s water lay within the rocks from which the planet was built. “[Piani et al.’s] work brings a crucial and elegant element to this puzzle. Earth’s water may simply come from the nebular material from which the planet accreted,” writes Anne H. Peslier in a related Perspective.

The authors note they cannot determine exactly when the material was delivered, but it must have been sufficiently late during Earth’s formation.

Read Unexpected Findings Result in New Origin Theory for Earth’s Water for more on this discovery.

Reference: “Earth’s water may have been inherited from material similar to enstatite chondrite meteorites” by Laurette Piani, Yves Marrocchi, Thomas Rigaudier, Lionel G. Vacher, Dorian Thomassin and Bernard Marty, 28 August 2020, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba1948


View Comments

  • I'm no scientist but doesn't water require oxygen too? Wouldn't all that hydrogen just bleed away without it?

  • Well I'm also no scientist and I would think the obvious answer of how any planet would have water would be due to a Comet impact more than a meteorite. Comets are made of Ice, dust,helium, rocks,etc... it would just seem more obvious. I know the science world doesn't always go with easy explanations. Not to say that meteorites didn't have any part in it, just that it would seem a icy comet formed from the edge of our solar system or another solar system mixed with the impact of a planet in the Goldilocks zone of our star and solor system. But at the end of the day I'm much more inclined to believe in a higher power. To simply believe we evolved from apes is in my mind crazy. How do we explain all the other lifeforms on earth? What did they evolve from? I'm all for science and now it plays an important part in our lives but I'm also not too small minded to believe that we didn't get a helping hand in the creation of life on earth. Everything we think we know about our solor system much less the universe is all theory not much more.

    • "How do we explain all the other lifeforms on earth? What did they evolve from?!
      "I’m also not too small minded to believe that we didn’t get a helping hand in the creation of life on earth"

      That's exactly what a small minded person would say. And you might be right for the wrong reasons. YOU SMALL BRAIN; I BIG BRAIN.

    • Anyone notice how Adam uses his spiritual beliefs to call you dumb if you don't believe in them? I don't understand that you could say someone is small-minded cause they do not agree with some sort of cosmic deity helping form the universe. I think you're looking for answers in a universe we know little about and also we cant comprehend most of it

    • The asteroids of the inner Solar System are generally free of surface water because it has sublimated (been heated and converted into a gas) by the Sun and swept away by the solar wind.

  • Just enjoy it every other species in the great void of our universe is desperately trying to find it. So remember when we leave the planet to look for whatever we are looking for it was always right in front of you.

  • I agree with Adam. It seems logical that a large water-based Comet struck the Earth many many moons ago.

  • Evidence for evolution: broad and robust.
    Evidence for creationism: a single book written thousands of years after the fact by the very creatures believing themselves to be the ordained apes of a higher power.
    Look to faith to face the difficulties of existence. Look to spirituality to find meaning in the mess of the cosmos. Look to science to explain why the cosmos is so messy. How and why are not mutually exclusive.

  • Their are millions of hypotheses to this subject matter transformation. Everyone involved existence in it because of it. Is why quantum effect entanglement exists is the container of the matrix is waterproof. #Quirigua

  • Sure God had a hand in life on this planet, and many others, and the whole universe. Evolution doesn't disprove god, it just disproves religion's take on it. A pretty steadfast law of physics is you can't get something from nothing. Yet the universe spawned from nothing. The "God created the universe" theory actually holds a lot of merit if you ignore the religious aspects of God.
    Perhapse God engineered evolution. Maybe God is an AI that intentionally created biological life and seeded the planet. Based on how inhospitable most of the universe is to biological life, the odds of synthetic intelligence(robotic abiogenesis?) Popping up would seem to be greater than biological life.

  • Geez, I love space stuff. Wish it was easier to read about. I mean difficult to read and understand paragraphs like "To constrain the uncertainties... Give us old farts some interesting and easier space stories to read about. Sorry about the jab on old folks. I'm sure most are more well read than me. Peace kids.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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