- Origin of water on Earth
The question of the origin of water on Earth, or the question of why there is clearly more water on the Earth than on the other planets of the Solar System, has not been clarified. There are several acknowledged theories as to how the world's oceans were formed over the past 4.6 billion years.
Some of the most likely contributory factors to the origin of the Earth's oceans are as follows:
- The cooling of the primordial Earth to the point where the outgassed volatile components were held in an atmosphere of sufficient pressure for the stabilization and retention of liquid water.
- Comets, trans-Neptunian objects or water-rich meteorites (protoplanets) from the outer reaches of the main asteroid belt colliding with the Earth may have brought water to the world's oceans. Measurements of the ratio of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and protium point to asteroids, since similar percentage impurities in carbon-rich chondrites were found to oceanic water, whereas previous measurement of the isotopes' concentrations in comets and trans-Neptunian objects correspond only slightly to water on the earth.
- Biochemically through mineralization and photosynthesis.
- Gradual leakage of water stored in hydrous minerals of the Earth's rocks.
- Photolysis: radiation can break down chemical bonds on the surface
Water in the development of the Earth
A sizeable quantity of water would have been in the material which formed the Earth. Water molecules would have escaped Earth's gravity more easily when it was less massive during its formation. Hydrogen and helium are expected to continually leak from the atmosphere, but the lack of denser noble gases in the modern atmosphere suggests that something disastrous happened to the early atmosphere.
Part of the young planet is theorized to have been disrupted by the impact which created the Moon, which should have caused melting of one or two large areas. Present composition does not match complete melting and it is hard to completely melt and mix huge rock masses. However, a fair fraction of material should have been vaporized by this impact, creating a rock-vapor atmosphere around the young planet. The rock-vapor would have condensed within two thousand years, leaving behind hot volatiles which probably resulted in a heavy carbon dioxide atmosphere with hydrogen and water vapor. Liquid water oceans existed despite the surface temperature of 230°C because of the atmospheric pressure of the heavy CO2 atmosphere. As cooling continued, subduction and dissolving in ocean water removed most CO2 from the atmosphere but levels oscillated wildly as new surface and mantle cycles appeared.
Study of zircons has found that liquid water must have existed as long ago as 4.4 Ga, very soon after the formation of the Earth. This requires the presence of an atmosphere. The Cool Early Earth theory covers a range from about 4.4 Ga to 4.0 Ga.
In fact, recent studies of zircons (in the fall of 2008) found in Australian Hadean rock hold minerals that point to the existence of plate tectonics as early as 4 billion years ago. If this holds true, the previous beliefs about the Hadean period are far from correct. That is, rather than a hot, molten surface and atmosphere full of carbon dioxide, the Earth's surface would be very much like it is today. The action of plate tectonics traps vast amounts of carbon dioxide, thereby eliminating the greenhouse effects and leading to a much cooler surface temperature and the formation of solid rock, and possibly even life.
That the Earth's water originated purely from comets is implausible, as a result of measurements of the isotope ratios of hydrogen in the three comets Halley, Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp by researchers like David Jewitt, as according to this research the ratio of deuterium to protium (D/H ratio) of the comets is approximately double that of oceanic water. What is however unclear is whether these comets are representative of those from the Kuiper Belt. According to A. Morbidelli  the largest part of today's water comes from protoplanets formed in the outer asteroid belt that plunged towards the Earth, as indicated by the D/H proportions in carbon-rich chondrites. The water in carbon-rich chondrites point to a similar D/H ratio as oceanic water. Nevertheless, mechanisms have been proposed to suggest that the D/H-ratio of oceanic water may have increased significantly throughout Earth's history. Such a proposal is consistent with the possibility that a significant amount of the water on Earth was already present during the planet's early evolution.
Role of organisms
In the early 1930s Cornelis Van Niel discovered that sulfide-dependent chemoautotrophic bacteria (purple sulfur bacteria) fix carbon and synthesize water as a byproduct of a photosynthetic pathway using hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide :
Few organisms utilize this method of photosynthesis today, making the water contribution negligible. But on the hydrogen sulfide-rich and oxygen-poor early planet, a small but significant portion of the earth's water may have been synthesized biochemically through this pathway.
- ^ "IngentaConnect Origin of water in the terrestrial planets". Ingentaconnect.com. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/arizona/maps/2005/00000040/00000004/art00003;jsessionid=7ibpocfkopqql.alice. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- ^ "Solar System Exploration: Science & Technology: Science Features: View Feature". Solarsystem.nasa.gov. 2004-04-26. http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/scitech/display.cfm?ST_ID=446. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- ^ N. H. Sleep*,†, K. Zahnle‡, and P. S. Neuhoff§. "Inaugural Article: Initiation of clement surface conditions on the earliest Earth - Sleep et al. 98 (7): 3666 - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences". Pnas.org. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/98/7/3666. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- ^ "ANU - Research School of Earth Sciences - ANU College of Science - Harrison". Ses.anu.edu.au. http://wwwrses.anu.edu.au/admin/index.php?p=harrison. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- ^ "ANU - OVC - MEDIA - MEDIA RELEASES - 2005 - NOVEMBER - 181105HARRISONCONTINENTS". Info.anu.edu.au. http://info.anu.edu.au/mac/Media/Media_Releases/_2005/_November/_181105harrisoncontinents.asp. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- ^ "A Cool Early Earth". Geology.wisc.edu. http://www.geology.wisc.edu/%7Evalley/zircons/cool_early/cool_early_home.html. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- ^ Chang, Kenneth (2008-12-02). "A New Picture of the Early Earth". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/02/science/02eart.html?8dpc. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- ^ A. Morbidelli et al. Meteoritics & Planetary Science 35, 2000, S. 1309–1329
- ^ H. Genda, M. Ikoma, Origin of the Ocean on the Earth: Early Evolution of Water D/H in a Hydrogen-rich Atmosphere. Accessible at http://arxiv.org/abs/0709.2025
- ^ van Niel, C.B. (1931). "Photosynthesis of bacteria". Arch. Mikrobiol. 3 (1).
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