Where did all the water go?


This story came my way a little while ago, courtesy of JJ Campanella on Starship Sofa Episode 348 (the news in question starts at 44 minutes with an amusing rendition of a conversation between Jim and Mrs Campanella, but do listen to the rest of the podcast too).

The gist of the story is that the wonder of science has found epic amounts of water locked away in something called ringwoodite, which lurks about 400 miles below the Earth’s surface and, apparently, sweats a lot. So much so, in fact, that if just one per cent of the rock at that depth is sweaty, there could be enough water down there to fill the world’s oceans three times over. And you were worried about the ice caps melting.

I don’t wish to go all young-earther here, but the idea that much of our surface oceans were in fact driven up from the mantle by geological processes, and not dropped off by passing comets as is more commonly believed, sort of lends a new slant to the creation narrative of Genesis:

And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.
Genesis 1:9, NIV

Taken literally (which I’m not saying it should be, just throwing ideas around) this verse suggests that the Earth was once – before the creation of life – covered in water. Water which, for dry ground to appear, presumably had to go somewhere…

The theory – presented by Steve Jacobsen of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL – as far as I can tell is that the oceans we now have may have come up from below the Earth’s surface; the possibility of the process being reversible is just my own creative speculation based on a couple of mediocre A-levels taken a couple of decades ago and long since forgotten.

So, how about we get back to what the actual scientist behind this idea says?

The hidden water might also act as a buffer for the oceans on the surface; it may explain why our oceans have stayed the same size for millions of years. If the stored water wasn’t there it would be on the surface of the earth and mountain tops would be the only land poking out.
Steve Jacobsen, emphasis mine.

You probably see where I’m going with this. It’s not a perfect explanation, but it could (and probably will) be argued that some freak geological occurrence caused all this ringwoodite-bound water to the surface at some point in history, covering all but the very highest mountain peaks in sea water until a sufficient portion of the water seeped back into it’s underground lair.

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.
Genesis 7:18-19, NIV

Such an overflow of previously unseen water could easily have been a catalyst for the many universal flood stories that exist in antiquity.

Perhaps more importantly – at least for those who want to take the whole of Genesis literally – this underground ocean could provide an answer to the sticky question of where all the water went.

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