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'Death pools' at the bottom of the Red Sea kill everything that enters them 'immediately'

A 2020 expedition found brine pools that offer insight into the origin of life.

'Death pools' at the bottom of the Red Sea kill everything that enters them 'immediately'
Cover Image Source: YouTube | @OceanX

As we marvel at scientific progress, researchers continue to unveil new planetary mysteries every day. Recently, a marine discovery in the Red Sea has unveiled numerous scientific revelations. During an expedition, researchers from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School identified rare deep-sea brine pools in the Gulf of Aqaba. Named after the Saudi organization funding this research, the NEOM brine pools, rich in microbial life, are lethal to most other organisms. 

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Jeremy Bishop
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Jeremy Bishop

In 2020, a team led by Sam Purkis, a professor at the UM Department of Marine Geosciences, partnered with OceanX to explore the depths of the Red Sea.

The high-tech marine research vessel OceanXplorer was equipped with a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to explore the sea's darkest depths. Just when the team was nearing the end of their ten-hour expedition through the ROV, the brine pools showed up nearly 1770 meters (more than a mile) beneath the sea surface. These underwater lakes are highly saline, devoid of oxygen, and have a rare chemical composition. The findings have been discussed in the 2022 study published in the Communications Earth and Environment journal



 

Speaking to Live Science, Purkis said, "At this great depth, there is ordinarily not much life on the seabed. However, the brine pools are a rich oasis of life. Thick carpets of microbes support a diverse suite of animals." The NEOM brine pools ranged from 107 square feet to 107,000 square feet in diameter. Completely lacking oxygen, these brine pools are not supportive of marine life forms that enter them. The animals that accidentally stray into the pools are instantly "stunned or killed." However, these pools serve as hunting grounds for marine predators that feed on the "unlucky" ones.

Representative Image Source: Pexels  Francesco Ungaro
Representative Image Source: Pexels Francesco Ungaro

The brine pools naturally keep animals away. Purkis explained, "Ordinarily, these animals bioturbate or churn up the seabed, disturbing the sediments that accumulate there. Not so with the brine pools. Here, any sedimentary layers that settle to the bed of the brine pool remain exquisitely intact." Turns out, these deadly brine pools also have a myriad of benefits. "Deep-sea brine pools are a great analog for the early Earth and, despite being devoid of oxygen and hypersaline, are teeming with a rich community of so-called 'extremophile' microbes," Purkis added. A deeper analysis of these NEOM brine pools might give us insights into the conditions that suited the genesis of life on Earth and also help the search for other life forms in and beyond our solar system.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Edward Jenner

Moreover, the microbes found in these brine pools could be great sources for innovating effective cures for cancer. "Molecules with antibacterial and anticancer properties have previously been isolated from deep-sea microbes living in brine pools," Purkis notified. Moreover, samples from the Red Sea brine pools have preserved over 1000 years of environmental records, including data on rainfall, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Researchers were able to predict the frequency of occurrence of major floods or tsunamis and these results were crucial lessons for the huge infrastructure projects that were occupying the fastly urbanizing coasts of the Gulf of Aqaba. Purkis expected to analyze the brine pools better with more sophisticated coring equipment in the future.



 

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