Years and years ago, I watched some amazing movie that began with a couple of kids jumping into a hot spring. As it turned out, it was a boiling pool full of methane and sulfur and other gasses, and they promptly died. I’m pretty sure Pierce Brosnan was in it, and it was awesome. Turns out there’s a real one of those pools bubbling away at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and it kills nearly everything that swims into it. Scientists have nicknamed it the “Jacuzzi of Despair” proving once again that scientists are mostly just really smart, old kids who get to study a bunch of cool shit for a living.
Back in 2014, a marine scientist named Erik Cordes was researching corals in the Gulf. He was using a remote controlled underwater robot to look a little closer at the deeper colonies when he accidentally discovered the underwater lake. He returned the next year with a team and a three-man submarine to get up close and personal with the toxic, briny pool.
According to his report, the lake is about 100 feet around and 12 feet deep. It sits at 3,300 feet below the surface and is almost twice the temperature of the surrounding ocean. It’s also extraordinarily salty–almost five times more so than the water outside of it. Part of the reason he was able to discover it was because the bottom of the pool was lined with dead crabs that made the mistake of getting too close.
“You go down into the underside of the ocean and you’re looking at a lake or a river flowing,” he said. “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.”
It’s not the heat that makes the pool deadly–it’s the salinity. That’s also what made it sink to the bottom of the Gulf. Once it was there, it mixed with hydrogen sulfide and other oily deposits on the sea 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.”
Interestingly, though, the pool is surrounded by a few creatures that have figured out a way to live in the toxic environment. A bed of giant mussels surrounds the pool with a bacteria in their gills that eat the hydrogen sulfide, along with brine shrimp and tube worms with various adaptations.