Fifty years ago a classic paper by W. W. Rubey [(1951) Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 62, 1111-1148] examined various hypotheses regarding the origin of sea water and concluded that the most likely hypothesis was volcanic outgassing, a view that was generally accepted by earth scientists for the next several decades. More recent work suggests that the rate of subduction of water is much larger than the volcanic outgassing rate, lending support to hypotheses that either ocean volume has decreased with time, or that the imbalance is offset by continuous replenishment of water by cometary impacts. These alternatives are required in the absence of additional mechanisms for the return of water from subducting lithosphere to the Earth's surface. Our recent work on crustal permebility suggests a large capacity for water upflow through tectonically active continental crust, resulting in a heretofore unrecognized degassing pathway that can accommodate the waer subduction rate. Escape of recycled water via delivery from the mantle through zones of active metamorphism eliminates the mass-balance argument for the loss of ocean volume or extraterestrial sources.
Additional Publication Details
Diffuse fluid flux through orogenic belts: Implications for the world ocean
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America