A team of scientific researcher-divers has discovered what may be the ultimate oxymoron: life at the bottom of the Dead Sea. National Geographic has an amazing report on the expedition, said to be the first-ever scientific dive to the depths of the world’s lowest spot.
What they found was a series of craters on the sea floor, from which fresh water spews out from underground springs. Colonies of bacteria live at the mouths of the craters.
Here’s a clip from the dive:
The team of Israelis and Germans from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Max Planck Institute made the dive in 2010. They’re planning to go back this month (October 2011) to learn more about the bacteria. National Geographic interviewed team leader Danny Ionescu of the Max Planck Institute, who had some gripping tales to tell about the experience:
To reach the springs, divers searched for abrupt drops along the seafloor while contending with very low visibility. “When you put your head in [a crater] you cannot see anything—you have to have faith and will to explore,” Ionescu said. But once the water cleared near the base of the crater, seeing the plumes jetting from the earth was “a fascinating feeling,” he said. … It’s no easy task—each diver has to carry 90 pounds (40 kilograms) of weight to lower his or her buoyancy, since the sea’s high salt content tends to make people float. Divers will also need to wear full face masks to protect their eyes and mouths. That’s because accidentally swallowing Dead Sea salt water would cause the larynx to inflate, resulting in immediate choking and suffocation. Likewise, the intensely salty water would instantly burn and likely blind the eyes—both reasons why Dead Sea swimmers rarely fully submerge their bodies, Ionescu noted.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).