All the attention from the naked Israelis at the Spencer Tunick photo shoot at the Dead Sea has brought good vibes to the dying salt lake: Israeli and German scientists say they have found new things for us to think about: deep replenishing springs and new life below fissures in the floor. Ben Gurion University researchers discovered deep springs on the floor of the Dead Sea, which provide fresh water to the rapidly dwindling lake. In parallel, German researchers has found new forms of life growing around the fissures in the sea floor. Click below to see the gallery.
While the existence of springs has been known for decades as people observed ripples on the surface, the scientists have discovered deep springs not visible from shore. The results show that there are systems of complex springs hundreds of meters long and as deep as 30 meters. The springs appear from the sea floor through craters as large as 15 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep –with steep, finely laminated walls where there are alternating layers of sediment and minerals.
Professional divers have been central to the sampling of the spring source, the understanding of flow structure, and the calculation of spring discharge and morphology based on submarine photography.
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, Germany who is leading the study of the micro-organisms.
According to Ionescu’s findings, these are not the same micro-organisms and algae which colored the Dead Sea red in 1992, and their discovery opens the door to some novel questions such as: How do they survive and what is their energy source?
While fish are not present, carpets of micro-organisms that cover large seafloor areas contain considerable richness of species, he says. Ionescu has shown that some had been heretofore unknown in such highly saline environments and many of them are unknown to science altogether. “The micro-organisms in the Dead Sea water mainly belong to the domain Archaea and they number around 1,000-10,000 per ml (much lower than regular sea water). 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,” according to Ionescu.
The research was carried as part of the German-funded SUMAR project.
The Dead Sea has been gradually evaporating as its main source of fresh water, the Jordan River, has been siphoned off just below the Sea of Galilee for drinking water for Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. Many regional efforts are being tried including the Red Dead Canal, to save the Dead Sea from evaporating for good.
The team is planning a follow-up expedition to the Dead Sea in October.