They call it the “Jacuzzi of Despair” and it’s not another teen horror movie … unless you’re a teenage fish trying to swim through it. Marine scientists have discovered a hot, toxic undersea pool on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico that kills every living thing attempting to cross it.
While researching corals in the Gulf using a remotely-controlled underwater robot, Temple College biology professor Erik Cordes found the mysterious lake-in-a-gulf in 2014. He returned in 2015 with a three-man sub for a better look.
What he saw belongs in an underwater monster flick.
You go down into the underside of the ocean and you’re looking at a lake or a river flowing. It seems like you aren’t on this world. We have been in a position to see the primary opening of a canyon … we noticed the brine falling over this wall like a dam. It was this stunning pool of purple white and black colors.
According to his report in the journal Oceanography, the lake was 3,300 feet below the surface, 100 feet in circumference and 12 feet deep. The bed of this rare undersea pool was covered with dead deep-sea crabs. Measurements showed the temperature in the lake at 65 degrees Fahrenheit – balmy compared to the water around it which was 39 degrees.
What killed the crabs was not the heat but the salinity. Cordes says the briny water was 4-to-5 times saltier than normal Gulf seawater, making it dense enough to sink to the bottom. There, it mixed with salt formations, hydrogen sulfide and oily deposits on the Gulf floor, forming a toxic goo that gets cooked by methane leaking from bed. The end result is a toxic oxygen-starved lake that kills crabs and other bottom feeders who accidentally step into the “Jacuzzi of Despair.”
What doesn’t get killed adapts, says Cordes. The sub crew found giant mussels with a symbiotic bacteria living in their gills that fed off the hydrogen sulfide, along with shrimp and tube worms that have also changed to live in the hostile environment.
While deep-sea hydrothermal vents are common, this is one of only a handful of brine pools caused by methane seepage and the first with so-called “extremophiles” living around it. That makes it a great place to help space scientists prepare for what they might find on other planets and moons with similar conditions.