They call it the “Jacuzzi of Despair.”
The underwater lake, discovered 3,300 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, is a pit of super-salty water and dissolved methane that kills any critter unlucky enough to fall inside.
The discovery was made last year by a San Pedro-based research vessel, the E/V Nautilus.
In the video, scientists excitedly navigate a remotely operated vehicle, the Hercules, above the circular pool. They point out the “pickled crabs” that succumbed to the “Jacuzzi of Despair.”
“These larger organisms really don’t like to be in this fluid — or maybe they just come here to die,” a scientist can be heard saying.
The “Jacuzzi of Despair” offers scientists a glimpse into the odd world of underwater biology and geology. Hercules’ observations from the brine pool were described in a recent report in the journal Oceanography.
The underwater lake formed over millions of years as a much shallower Gulf of Mexico evaporated and left behind massive beds of salt. When these now-submerged salt layers shift and crack, they allow oil and gas trapped in the shale to escape while seawater mixes with the sediment below.
The result is a super-salty brine so dense it doesn’t easily mix with the seawater around it. The brine then pools into underwater lakes, rivers and “spectacular” waterfalls, the scientists wrote.
The “Jacuzzi of Despair” is a crater-like pool that rises 12 feet above the ocean floor. It is lined with mussels that help keep the outer walls of the lake intact.
In the video, the cloudy brine can be seen cascading over the side of the lake.
The mussels survive in the deep ocean thanks to a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that live on their gills. These bacteria use dissolved gases — such as methane and hydrogen sulfide seeping from the ocean floor — to make energy for the shellfish. Fields of tube worms survive alongside similar bacteria.
While mussels thrive along the pool’s edge, the brine itself is toxic to most sea creatures. The fluid is four times saltier than regular ocean water.
To measure the pool’s salinity, temperature and depth, the Hercules lowered a sensor down into the pool. From the lake’s surface to a depth of about 10 feet, the brine was a relatively toasty 46 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 degrees Celsuis).
As the sensor sank deeper, the temperature rose further, to 66 F (19 C). The probe plunged more than 62 feet into the “Jacuzzi of Despair” but never reached the bottom.
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Explore the ‘Jacuzzi of Despair,’ a lake so salty it kills almost everything inside – Los Angeles Times