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Recently uncovered lethal pools beneath the ocean can fatally harm any living creature that enters them.

It could solve three mysteries with one stone.
A group of researchers from the University of Miami have made an intriguing new finding that may help unravel three different puzzles at once. The discovery involves the existence of enormous brine pools deep in the Red Sea, which are capable of instantly killing or immobilizing any living organism that ventures into them. This discovery could offer valuable insights into the origins of Earth’s oceans, shed light on the possibility of life beyond our planet, and even reveal potential treatments for cancer. These exciting prospects were outlined in a recent report by Live Science.

Although life does exist on the fringes of these deadly aquatic zones, any creatures that venture beneath the surface are doomed to perish and undergo a process of preservation. Despite this, a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment reveals that these unusual brine pools may contain evidence of climate variations spanning thousands of years in the area, and could even offer insights into the emergence of life on our planet.
Uncovering deep-sea brine pools

Brine pools are hyper-saline lakes that form on the ocean floor and are renowned for being some of the harshest environments on Earth. Devoid of oxygen and containing deadly levels of salt, they are home to extremophile microorganisms that could hold important clues about the origins and evolution of life on our planet, as well as other water-rich worlds. Until recently, these deep-sea brine pools were thought to exist only in three regions: the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Red Sea, and were believed to be located at least 15.5 miles (25 km) from the shore. However, a recent study has upended this assumption by discovering the first brine pools in the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern section of the Red Sea, just 1.25 miles (2 km) from the shore.

Using a remotely operated underwater vehicle during a 2020 research expedition onboard the OceanXplorer vessel operated by OceanX, scientists identified the presence of brine pools in the Red Sea located 1.1 miles (1.77 km) below the surface. The newly discovered brine pools were dubbed NEOM.

According to Sam Purkis, the lead author of the study and Chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences at the University of Miami, life is typically scarce on the seafloor at such extreme depths. However, in the case of brine pools, it’s a different story. “Thick mats of microorganisms provide a thriving haven for a variety of organisms,” Purkis told Live Science.

Understanding life on Earth
The proximity of these brine pools to the coastline raises the possibility that they have been affected by land-based runoff, which could have introduced terrestrial substances into their chemical composition. Consequently, these newly discovered pools may offer valuable insights into natural phenomena such as tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes that have occurred in the region over the course of many centuries. As Professor Purkis explained, “The core samples taken from these brine pools provide a continuous record of historical precipitation spanning more than a millennium, as well as data on earthquakes and tsunamis.” The team’s analysis further revealed that severe flooding events resulting from heavy rainfall happen once every 25 years, while tsunamis occur approximately once every 100 years, findings that could have implications for the large-scale development projects currently underway along the region’s coastline.
The discovery of these brine pools has far-reaching implications, as they could potentially provide a wealth of new microbial discoveries that could lead to the development of novel medicines and treatments. In the past, microorganisms found in deep-sea brine pools have been known to produce compounds with antibacterial and anticancer properties. Moreover, these pools could also be crucial in helping us unlock the secrets of extraterrestrial life. As Professor Purkis explained, “Our current understanding is that life likely originated in the deep sea on Earth, probably in anoxic conditions. Deep-sea brine pools are an excellent analogue for the early Earth, and despite being hypersaline and devoid of oxygen, they are teeming with a diverse community of extremophile microbes. Studying these microbes could thus provide insights into the conditions under which life first emerged on our planet, and may also aid in the search for life on other water-rich worlds in our solar system and beyond.”
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