Dead Sea researchers discover freshwater springs and numerous micro-organisms

Sep 27, 2011

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have discovered deep freshwater springs on the Dead Sea floor that feed into this rapidly dwindling body of water.

In the first-ever diving expedition, the researchers also found new types of micro-organisms growing around fissures in the sea floor as part of a collaboration with the Max Planck Institute of scientists in Germany.

Diving expeditions have been, up to now, too dangerous to undertake in the saltiest body of on earth. Using highly skilled divers and high-tech equipment, BGU sent the team to study the springs they had previously detected, but were unable to see from the surface.

The Dead Sea has been rapidly evaporating approximately three feet (one meter) per year, as its main source of fresh water, the Jordan River, has been siphoned off just below the Sea of Galilee for drinking by Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.

These Israeli and German scientists have been researching groundwater springs which discharge from the sea floor to understand the impact of this process on the unique Dead Sea ecosystem.

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VIDEO CREDIT: Dr. Christian Lott/the Hydra Institute

BGU Prof. Jonathan Laronne and research student Yaniv Munwes in BGU's Department of Geography and Environmental Development, working with divers, devised the first system to directly measure spring discharge and study the structure of the upward jet-like, plume flow.

Their study reveals complex springs hundreds of feet long and as deep as 90 feet (30 meters). The springs appear from the through craters as large as 45 feet (15 meters) in diameter and 60 feet (20 meters) deep -- with steep, finely laminated walls and alternating layers of sediment and minerals.

"By developing a measurement system for these springs, we will be able to determine more accurately how much water is actually entering the Dead Sea," Prof. Laronne says.

"While researchers have known for decades that the 'Dead' Sea was a misnomer, the rich variety of life as evidenced in the vicinity of the springs was unexpected," says Dr. Danny Ionescu of the Microsensor Group, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany who is leading the study of the micro-organisms.

"While there are no fish present, carpets of micro-organisms that cover large seafloor areas contain considerable richness of species," he says. Ionescu has shown that some had been previously unknown to live in such highly saline environments while others were newly discovered species.

"The micro-organisms in the Dead Sea water mainly belong to the domain Archaea and they number around 1,000 to 10,000 per ml, much lower than regular sea water," according to Ionescu. "Never before have microbial mats/ biofilms been found in the Dead Sea and not much is known about sediment micro-organisms in the Dead Sea."

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GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2011
Diving expeditions have been, up to now, too dangerous to undertake in the saltiest body of water on earth.


I was just trying to figure out what they meant about it being too dangerous and accidentally came accross the following on wiki:

With 33.7% salinity, it is also one of the world's saltiest bodies of water, though Lake Assal (Djibouti), Garabogazköl and some hypersaline lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica (such as Don Juan Pond) have reported higher salinities.


So not quite the saltiest body of water in the world, but close.

I found that diving has only recently been allowed, and only on Wednesday and Thursday. A special class and certification is required. The equipment needs to be heavily weighted, due to bouyancy issues, and the salt content can be harmful to your eyes. So, that's why diving there is dangerous, if anybody was wondering like I was.
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2011
See this anecdotal report for the reasons why it is dangerous to dive in the Dead Sea:

http://deadseaisr...sea-but/

There is something else I saw reported on a show played on a PBS station several months ago. I do not recall the name of the show, but part of it involved a diver who is paid to clean salt deposits off of boats in the Dead Sea. In the video, the dangers of the job were pointed out and it was stated that one swallow of the water can also desiccate your stomach tissue and can kill you that way as well.

Wish I could recall the name of the show. It had a lot of interesting information in it regarding the region.