Deep in the depths of the Red Sea, scientists have made a mind-boggling discovery that is shrouded in mystery. In a groundbreaking study that occurred “in the last five minutes of the ten-hour ROV dive”, researchers from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, in partnership with OceanX, uncovered rare deep-sea brine pools in the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern extension of the Red Sea.1 These hidden wonders, submerged more than a mile beneath the sea’s surface, offer insights into Earth’s ancient past and may even unlock the secrets of life beyond our planet.
The Red Sea’s World of Extremes
Deep-sea brine pools are enigmatic features on the ocean floor, known for their extreme conditions.2 These underwater lakes are extraordinarily salty, devoid of oxygen, and possess exotic chemistry, making them some of the harshest environments on Earth. Yet, these pools teem with life, defying expectations. In these brine pools, researchers have discovered a rich community of extremophile microbes, showcasing the remarkable adaptability of life to extreme conditions.
The study’s lead author, Sam Purkis, a professor at the University of Miami, believes that the Red Sea’s deep-sea brine pools could hold the key to understanding the origins of life on our planet.3 He points out that life on Earth likely began in anoxic, oxygen-deprived environments, much like these brine pools. By studying the thriving microbial communities in these extreme conditions, scientists gain valuable insights into the conditions that may have given rise to life on Earth and help guide the search for life on other water-rich worlds in our solar system and beyond.
A Potential Goldmine of Medicinal Discoveries
Aside from their significance in understanding the origins of life, these brine pools may also be treasure troves of potential medicinal breakthroughs. “At this great depth, there is ordinarily not much life on the seabed,” Purkis said. However, the brine pools are a rich oasis of life. Thick carpets of microbes support a diverse suite of animals. Molecules with antibacterial and anticancer properties have been isolated from microbes living in these extreme environments. These discoveries could contribute to the development of novel medicines, potentially changing the landscape of medical science.
The Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea, has traditionally been known for its stunning coastal beauty. However, the recent discovery of deep-sea brine pools in this area has turned the spotlight toward its hidden mysteries.
The NEOM Brine Pools, as they are now known, were discovered during a 2020 expedition onboard the OceanXplorer, a highly equipped marine research vessel, and were named after the Saudi development company NEOM, which funded the research. Unlike previously known brine pools in the Red Sea, which were located far offshore, these pools are situated a mere 1.25 miles (2 km) from the coast. This proximity to the shoreline makes the NEOM Brine Pools unique, and their location holds the potential to unveil a wealth of historical information about the Gulf of Aqaba.
Geological Records in the Red Sea
The NEOM Brine Pools have a special feature: their proximity to the coast allows them to accumulate runoff from land, incorporating terrestrial minerals into their chemical makeup. As a result, they may serve as invaluable archives that “represent an unbroken record of past rainfall in the region, stretching back more than 1,000 years, plus records of earthquakes and tsunami,” says Purkis.
The findings regarding the risk of tsunamis and other natural disasters in the Red Sea could have significant implications for the rapid urbanization and massive infrastructure projects along its coastline. Understanding the historical patterns of these events is essential for safeguarding these developments and the people living in the region.
Researchers plan to work with neighboring countries along the Gulf of Aqaba to assess earthquake and tsunami risks comprehensively. Additionally, they hope to return to the NEOM Brine Pools with more advanced coring equipment to extend their reconstruction even further in time.
The Journey Through Seas Continues
The discovery of the NEOM Brine Pools in the Red Sea marks a significant milestone in the exploration of Earth’s hidden secrets. These pools, teeming with life in the most extreme conditions, offer tantalizing clues to the origins of life on our planet and the potential for life on other worlds. As scientists dive deeper into the mysteries of the Gulf of Aqaba, we can only imagine the incredible revelations that lie ahead, waiting to reshape our understanding of our planet’s past and future.
By delving into the depths of the Red Sea, we venture into a world that is both awe-inspiring and terrifying, unlocking the secrets of Earth’s ancient past and laying the groundwork for the future of scientific discovery.
- “Rare deep-sea brine pools discovered in Red Sea.” Miami. Diana Udel. July 11, 2022.
- “‘Unlucky’ creatures that enter rare Red Sea brine pools are immediately stunned to death.” Live Science. Charles Q. Choi. July 19, 2022.
- “Discovery of the deep-sea NEOM Brine Pools in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea.” Nature. Sam J. Purkis, et al. June 27, 2022.