Researchers at the University of Miami's (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science have discovered rare deep-sea brine pools in the Gulf of Aqaba, the northern extension of the Red Sea. Sam Purkis, the head of the UM Department of Marine Geosciences said that these salty ocean lakes could contain information on how Earth's seas evolved millions of years ago and provide hints about life on distant planets.
The brine pool was discovered at the depth of 1,770 meters beneath the sea in partnership with OceanX. The discovery was made using a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) on OceanXplorer, a marine research vessel.
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The research was published in the journal Nature Communications and is the first discovery of brine pools in the Gulf of Aqaba.
Although brine pools are among the most hostile places on Earth, they are teeming with life despite their high salinity, unusual chemistry, and complete lack of oxygen. Previously, Red Sea brine pool microorganisms yielded bioactive compounds with possible anticancer effects.
These highly saline, oxygen-free pools, located close to the coastline, contain records of ancient earthquakes, flash floods, and tsunamis that occurred in the Gulf of Aqaba. In this location of the Gulf of Aqaba, there are numerous faults and cracks in the seabed that are related to the indigenous tectonics.
Speaking to Live Science, Purkis commented on the rich biodiversity these pools have to offer, despite their lethal nature. “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,” said Purkis.
The brine ponds can support the lives of some organisms. Since mussels can convert the methane contained in brine pools into carbon sugar, they are often found surrounding the edges of the pools as well.
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Purkis believes that further research into the microbes on Earth that could survive such extreme environments would help trace the limits of the Earth and aid the quest for life in the Solar System and beyond. “Until we understand the limits of life on Earth, it will be difficult to determine if alien planets can host any living beings,” said Purkis.