Quest to trace origin of Earth’s water is ‘a complete mess’ | Science News

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Quest to trace origin of Earth’s water is ‘a complete mess’

Space water data too simplistic and seawater may not be best comparison, new analyses suggest

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5:26pm, August 5, 2015
Ocean

BEYOND THE SEA There’s an awful lot of water in the oceans, but most of Earth’s water could be hiding deep underground and confusing the quest for how the planet got its water. 

HONOLULU — When it comes to wringing out the origins of Earth’s water, planetary scientist Karen Meech has some bad news. Not only do researchers have bad intel on where water-bearing bodies in the solar system formed, our own oceans might be sending them down the wrong path.

“It looks like a complete mess,” says Meech, of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, who gave a state-of-the-water address August 4 at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union.

There are two big problems, she says. The bulk of Earth’s water, hidden deep underground, has a slightly different composition from that of ocean water. Yet for decades, researchers have used seawater to compare the makeup of Earth’s water against that of icy asteroids and comets in the solar system. To complicate matters, the chemical marker that researchers rely on for tracking water might not even be that useful, Meech says.

When Earth formed, it didn

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