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Nature. 2014 Dec 18;516(7531):379-82. doi: 10.1038/nature14017.

The contribution of the Precambrian continental lithosphere to global H2 production.

Author information

1
Department of Earth Sciences, 22 Russell Street, University of Toronto, Toronto M5S 3B1, Canada.
2
Department of Geosciences, Guyot Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA.
3
Department of Earth Sciences, South Parks Road, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3AN, UK.

Abstract

Microbial ecosystems can be sustained by hydrogen gas (H2)-producing water-rock interactions in the Earth's subsurface and at deep ocean vents. Current estimates of global H2 production from the marine lithosphere by water-rock reactions (hydration) are in the range of 10(11) moles per year. Recent explorations of saline fracture waters in the Precambrian continental subsurface have identified environments as rich in H2 as hydrothermal vents and seafloor-spreading centres and have suggested a link between dissolved H2 and the radiolytic dissociation of water. However, extrapolation of a regional H2 flux based on the deep gold mines of the Witwatersrand basin in South Africa yields a contribution of the Precambrian lithosphere to global H2 production that was thought to be negligible (0.009 × 10(11) moles per year). Here we present a global compilation of published and new H2 concentration data obtained from Precambrian rocks and find that the H2 production potential of the Precambrian continental lithosphere has been underestimated. We suggest that this can be explained by a lack of consideration of additional H2-producing reactions, such as serpentinization, and the absence of appropriate scaling of H2 measurements from these environments to account for the fact that Precambrian crust represents over 70 per cent of global continental crust surface area. If H2 production via both radiolysis and hydration reactions is taken into account, our estimate of H2 production rates from the Precambrian continental lithosphere of 0.36-2.27 × 10(11) moles per year is comparable to estimates from marine systems.

PMID:
25519136
DOI:
10.1038/nature14017
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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