Scientists have found a lake under an ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, dubbing it the "Jacuzzi of Despair" for its high salt content and temperature that has killed creatures who accidentally fall into it.
The "crater-like, circular, brine-filled pool" rises about 10 feet above the seafloor, with brine pouring out of one side in a "spectacular waterfall," according to the findings published in the journal Oceanography. The water in the pool is four to five times saltier than in the surrounding ocean and its temperature is nearly twice as warm.
"It was one of the most amazing things in the deep sea," said Erik Cordes, associate professor of biology at Temple University in Philadelphia, who discovered the site along with several colleagues. "You go down into the bottom of the ocean and you are looking at a lake or a river flowing. It feels like you are not on this world," he told Seeker.
The rare undersea toxic pool offers scientists a chance to examine life in extreme conditions, determining what marine and microbial life have adapted to high temperature and salty environments. It may provide a hint to life on foreign planets with similar conditions.
"There's a lot of people looking at these extreme habitats on Earth as models for what we might discover when we go to other planets," Dr. Cordes said. "The technology development in the deep sea is definitely going to be applied to the worlds beyond our own."
The scientists visited the site 4,200 feet below the Gulf of Mexico via remotely operated vehicles that also produce high-resolution maps of the seafloor. The brine pool, formed by the mixing of seawater and salt bodies in the seafloor forced up by oil and gas leaks, does not mix well with its surroundings because of its density.
Because of its extreme conditions, food is scarce in the pool. The water is rich with methane, which can be seen bubbling toward the surface – hence the name, "Jacuzzi of Despair."
The pool has its own distinctive shoreline, with a wall populated by mussels and other, more cautious organisms. Within the pool, carcasses of large crabs dot the barren floor.
"That’s what we mean by 'Jacuzzi of Despair,' these types of bigger larger organisms really don’t like to be in this fluid," the scientists said in video of the expedition.
The only "extremophiles" known to survive the brine and heat are the methane-consuming bacteria and mussels who populate the walls of the pool, although the scientists did find some tube worms and other organisms that may have adapted to the conditions.