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The Real Deadpool: Deep-Sea Lake of Destruction

Oct 31, 2016 05:01 AM EDT
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The Gulf of Mexico houses an unusual underwater lake of extremely dense and salty water that has been dubbed the "Jacuzzi of Despair" because of its ability to kill any sea creature that drifts into its waters. What makes it such an inhospitable environment? Harsh salt deposits that bubble up along with methane.

Considered to be an undersea "deadpool," it was discovered to be strewn with carcasses of deep-sea crabs that had swum into the pool to search for food. The circular pool, about 100 feet in circumference across and 12 feet deep, had also killed amphipods and the occasional fish. It can be found 3,300 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and is composed of water that is four to five times saltier than the seawater around it. Dense and dangerous, it's a mixture of toxic chemicals that include methane gas and hydrogen sulfide and cannot be combined with the surrounding seawater.

"It was one of the most amazing things in the deep sea," said Erik Cordes, an associate professor of biology at Temple University. "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." After discovering the site with several colleagues, Cordes published a report on their discovery in the journal Oceanography.

"We were able to see the first opening of a canyon," Cordes recalled. "We kept up this steep slope and it opened up and we saw all these mud flows. We got closer and we saw the brine falling over this wall like a dam. It was this beautiful pool of red white and black colors." Just at the edge of the pool, giant mussels with a symbiotic bacteria living in their gills were feeding off the hydrogen sulfide and methane gas. There were also specially adapted shrimp and tube worms.

Scott Wankel, a biogeochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said that the "Jacuzzi of Despair" had a temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, much warmer compared with the 39 degrees of the surrounding seawater. It's this warmth that attracts unsuspecting marine life. "It's warm, but super salty," Wankel observed. "When they fall in, they die and get pickled and preserved."

Cordes said these pools are rare in the world's oceans. The team collected samples of microbial life that could adapt to the high salinity and low oxygen levels of the brine pool. Cordes believes that these creatures could resemble life on planets in our solar system or beyond.

"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," Cordes said. "The technology development in the deep sea is definitely going to be applied to the worlds beyond our own."

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