Saltwater pools under the ocean kill anything that swims in them

The new discovery of extreme habitats could help us solve three puzzles with one stone — providing new insights into how Earth’s oceans formed, unlocking the secrets of extraterrestrial life, and unveiling potential cancer-fighting compounds.

It’s all thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Miami, who have discovered huge pools of salt water in the depths of the Red Sea that quickly kill or paralyze anything that enters them, according to a preliminary report from Live Science.

Life exists in the outskirts of these aquatic death traps; However, any unfortunate animals that go deep below the surface do not survive but instead become pickled. However, these rare saltwater pools may hold clues about climate changes that occurred thousands of years ago in the region and could shed light on the origins of life on Earth, according to a study published in the journal. Nature Communications Earth and Environment offers.

Detecting saltwater pools in the deep sea

In case you didn’t know, saltwater pools are extremely salty lakes that form on the sea floor. They are among the harshest environments on our planet due to the fact that they are devoid of oxygen and have lethal levels of brine. They are also known for their highly sensitive microbes, which may shed light on how life began on Earth and how life could have evolved in water-rich worlds.

It is known that deep-sea saltwater pools exist only in three bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. All deep-sea pools in the Red Sea were thought to lie 15.5 miles (25 km) from shore; However, this study changed that, with scientists discovering the first such pools in the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern enclave of the Red Sea. Here, the salt lakes lie 1.25 miles (2 km) from shore.

Scientists have discovered saltwater basins 1.1 miles (1.77 km) below the Red Sea’s surface during a 2020 expedition aboard the Marine Exploration Organization’s OceanXplorer research vessel, using a remotely operated underwater vehicle. The new saltwater pools are named NEOM.

NEOM salt water pools. Source: OceanX / Nature

“At this great depth, there isn’t usually much life on the sea floor,” explained lead author Sam Perkes, professor and chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences at the University of Miami. Live Science. “However, the saltwater pools are an oasis rich in life. Thick carpets of microbes support a variety of animals.”

Understanding life on earth

Because of their proximity to the coast, these ponds may have acquired runoff from the ground, which may have mixed terrestrial materials into their chemical composition. As a result, they likely serve as an archive of tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes across thousands of years.

Birkes noted that core samples from newly discovered saltwater pools provide an “uninterrupted record of the region’s past rains, spanning more than 1,000 years, as well as seismic and tsunami records.” According to the team’s findings, large floods of torrential rain occur “about once every 25 years, and tsunamis occur.” [take place] about once every 100 years”, which could change the perspective on the massive infrastructure projects currently being built on the coast in the region.

The implications of the discovery don’t stop there, as the complex could also yield microbial discoveries that could aid the development of new drugs and treatments. For example, deep-sea microorganisms that live in saltwater pools have previously produced molecules that have antibacterial and anticancer effects. And on a cosmic scale, salt ponds can also help us unlock the mysteries of extraterrestrial life.

“Our current understanding is that life arose on Earth in the deep sea, almost certainly in hypoxic conditions – without oxygen,” Birkes explained. “Deep-sea saltwater pools are a wonderful analog to early Earth, and while devoid of oxygen and extreme salinity, they teem with a rich community of ‘buffy’ microbes. Studying this community then allows a glimpse into the kind of conditions that emerged. In it, life is the first on our planet, and has guided the search for life in other “aquatic worlds” in our solar system and beyond.

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