E12 – Bonus Clip: The Smell of Water

Check out this clip that didn’t make it into our recent episode, The Oldest Water on Earth, what old water smells like!



Shane:                  Hi, Nanci.

Nanci:                   Hey.

Shane:                  What’s the grossest water you’ve ever drank?

Nanci:                   Grossest?

Shane:                  Yeah.

Nanci:                   That’s a good question.

Shane:                  This isn’t really a loaded thing, I’m just-

Nanci:                   I don’t know. Probably when you’re camping or something, and you have to put the iodine in it, but sometimes it can be very fresh.

Shane:                  Yeah.

Nanci:                   I don’t know. Basically, I have no idea.

Shane:                  I’m trying to figure out. I can’t really pinpoint anything specific, but I grew up drinking water out of a hose in the country, and I’m positive I’ve drank water out of streams where I shouldn’t be alive right now.

Nanci:                   Yeah, Giardia.

Shane:                  There’s Giardia, and there’s just certain flavor and sometimes a certain smell to it.

Nanci:                   Correct.

Shane:                  The reason we’re here is because we have a bonus clip that will pertain to this somewhat from our most recent episode, The Oldest Water on Earth.

Nanci:                   What does it smell like or feel like? Have you tasted it, by any chance?

Barbara:               It’s a good segue because we were talking about the water-rock reaction. Water-rock reaction means that there’s a whole variety of different things in this water. It’s H2O, but it’s H2O that’s full of electron donors, electron acceptors. I mentioned the role of sulfate. Indeed, work that’s been done by many groups around the world, including ours and our colleagues, looking at the kinds of organisms that live in these subsurface see the role of organisms that are using, for instance, hydrogen and sulfate as their metabolic strategy. The minute you get sulfur involved, you have a potential to produce all kinds of really lovely and smelly things. In fact, they do, they smell pretty funky, largely because of the presence of things like what are called methyl mercaptans, dimethyl sulfate, low level organic sulfur compounds which have a charming, charming smell. They’re pretty stinky, which is actually extremely helpful. Sometimes that’s how we find them. If I can get a whiff of that coming up a drift, a tunnel, then we know that down that tunnel somewhere is what I want. We’ll actually often find it by smell.

                                Once we’re there, depending on whether it’s just weeping a little bit or gushing, if it’s gushing, no matter how hard you try, you do end up occasionally getting … We’re wearing protective clothing, and eyeglass protection and all of that, but nonetheless you end up with a little bit on your hands or on the side of your cheek. You end up, whether you want to or not, finding out what it tastes like because if you lick your lips after a while, you can feel the saltiness of the water. There was a report at one time that, again, this was what it was talking about, this different levels of scientific reporting. I think I discussed that at one point, that it tastes terrible because it’s full of all these sulfur compounds and highly salty. That got reported eventually as drinking the water, which was certainly not the case.

Nanci:                   Not the case. It’s super salty.

Barbara:               Super salty.

Nanci:                   It’s very salty. Nothing you’d want to drink even if-

Barbara:               Oh, gosh. It’s 3 to 10 times the salinity of seawater …

Nanci:                   Oh, okay.

Barbara:               … depending on where you are.

Shane:                  Have you ever drank ocean water?

Nanci:                   Probably. Also, I was at the Dead Sea.

Shane:                  Oh, did you drink that water?

Nanci:                   I’m sure we tasted it. It’s super salty, obviously.

Shane:                  It’s probably viscous almost because of everything that’s in it.

Nanci:                   Yeah.

Shane:                  I like salt in my diet, but I think that’s a little extreme.

Nanci:                   Yeah.

Shane:                  All right. Thanks, all, for listening. Be sure to check out the full episode, The Oldest Water on Earth.

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