Under the seabed off the East Coast of America, scientists have discovered something that might just save countless lives.
Deep in the seawaters of the Atlantic, scientists from America have made a significant discovery. During a mapping exercise of the area, in fact, this group of experts has managed to confirm the presence of a massive ocean hidden below the Atlantic first suspected back in the 1970s. And the implications of their find could conceivably impact upon the whole world.
This body of scientists had been assembled from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Columbia University. Attempting to analyze electromagnetic waves, the team had been aboard a vessel sailing from New Jersey to Massachusetts. And from there, they noted something that could end up saving countless human lives.
The experts subsequently reported their findings in a June 2019 publication entitled
Scientific Reports. And following the dissemination of the group’s research, a number of media outlets took note. Many then commented upon how the scientists’ newly discovered ocean – provided it’s treated appropriately – could help to sustain the Earth’s ever-rising population.
So who are these experts? Well, a key organization involved in the research, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), is committed to learning about marine life. Set up some 89 years ago, the group studies geological processes at the heart of our planet – as well as specifically investigating the Earth’s oceans. It’s the largest organization of its kind in the United States, in fact.
A number of vessels associated with the WHOI actually sail across the globe. The range of craft at the organization’s disposal includes a pair of big research boats as well as some smaller ships too. And it even possesses a number of autonomous craft capable of traveling underwater.
The organization can also trace its origins back to 1927, when the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended that the nation initiate a program dedicated to the study of the planet’s oceans. Then, three years later, the WHOI was established. And in 1931 the RV
Atlantis, the group’s first craft dedicated to research, entered into service.
The WHOI website has elaborated on the group’s goals. “The ocean is a vast and challenging place to work, but knowledge about the ocean is crucial to life on a changing planet,” it states. “[The WHOI addresses] questions ranging from climate change to oil spills to ocean acidification.”
Of course, more than two-thirds of our planet’s exterior is made up of oceans. Yet a great deal of this underwater realm has still never been properly investigated. That’s why the ocean continues to reveal hidden secrets to this day. Features known as aquifers, for instance, have recently been discovered beneath the seafloor. And this is exactly what the group from WHOI found underneath the Atlantic.
Interestingly, an aquifer can be simply defined as an area of rock beneath ground that’s capable of holding water. When aquifers are found underneath land, then, they can be seen to possess water that has seeped into the earth below. This liquid – which might have derived from rainfall or thawed snow – trickles down from above, stopping only when it reaches more impermeable rock.
The easiest way to comprehend or envisage an aquifer is perhaps to picture a sandy beach. Now imagine that you were to drive a shovel through this shoreline. Quite quickly, you would arrive at an area of damp sand beneath the arid surface, right? Well, this area can be thought of as an illustration of an aquifer.
Aquifers fall into two categories, though. The first is as an unconfined aquifer, which is topped by rock through which liquid can pass. These tend not to be full of water. A confined aquifer, on the other hand, is found in the middle of two slabs of more impermeable rock. They are full of water, which might have traveled there from another aquifer, a lake or a river.
It’s possible to tap into the water held within aquifers through the use of wells too. And so aquifers can be considered as a potentially important source of water for human usage. They are sometimes easily depleted, however. They can also become polluted by toxins traveling down from the ground above.
A famous example of a significant aquifer is the Great Artesian Basin – which is found across 660,000 square miles beneath the surface of Australia. Said to possess the greatest length and depth of any basin of its kind around the globe, the Great Artesian Basin provides water for a significant part of Australia. Areas such as Queensland, for example, are particularly reliant on its supplies.
In the east of the Sahara Desert in Africa, too, a hugely significant aquifer network can be found beneath the surface. This is the so-called Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS), which is located within the borders of a number of nations: Chad, Sudan, Egypt and Libya.
The NSAS is said to be a hugely promising source of water for the nations beneath which it resides. In fact, one of those countries has already initiated a scheme to tap into its supplies. Back in 1984, you see, Libya started work on the Great Man-made River Project, which was financed by the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
The Great Man-made River Project is reportedly made up of in excess of 1,000 wells and a system of pipes spanning close to 2,000 miles. This being the case, it could be the biggest irrigation scheme on Earth. And Gaddafi himself once reportedly characterized the project as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The NSAS that the project taps into is said to be vast too. It was created at some point in the planet’s most recent ice age and could provide water for a good while yet. However, there’s apparently a danger that it might be exhausted within the next century or so.
Aquifers found beneath the surface of land – such as the NSAS or the Great Artesian Basin – are significant sources of water for humans, then. But if they’re used up, huge problems will be posed. Numerous areas around the globe could be subjected to bouts of drought, for instance.
In fact, it’s been predicted that insufficient water supplies will be among the most critical ecological problems of the near future. Issues such as growing populations, climate change and human industry are all capable of exacerbating the situation. And many millions of people already find it very difficult to obtain drinkable water.
As a result, any discovery of a new source of drinking water on our planet is potentially of huge importance. So when experts announced in 2013 that large supplies of freshwater existed beneath the Earth’s oceans, there was cause to take note. Particularly as it was suggested that the amounts were more significant than anything tapped into in recent memory.
Dr. Vincent Post, who was heavily involved in the research surrounding the announcement, has stressed the potential of these water supplies. “The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” he said in December 2013, according to News Atlas. “Our research shows that fresh and brackish aquifers below the seabed are actually quite a common phenomenon.”
Experts have suggested that approximately 120,000 cubic miles of water may be found within these hidden supplies, in fact. It’s thought that the water itself also contains low levels of salt. This means that it can be treated with relative ease and turned into water suitable for humans to drink.
These previously hidden supplies are said to have been created when the Earth’s oceans lay lower than their current levels. It’s been suggested that around 20,000 years ago the planet’s ice caps started to thaw and sea levels consequently rose. But freshwater subsequently remained lodged underneath these higher oceans – held between layers of sediment.
Dr. Post also added that rain had had an influence. “When it rained, the water would infiltrate into the ground and fill up the water table in areas that are nowadays under the sea,” he stated. “It happened all around the world, and when the sea level rose when ice caps started melting some 20,000 years ago, these areas were covered by the ocean.”
While aquifers found underneath oceans are comparable to those under land, tapping into them can of course prove even more difficult. “There are two ways to access this water,” Dr. Post suggested. “Build a platform out at sea and drill into the seabed. Or drill from the mainland or islands close to the aquifers.”
Dr. Post has, however, stressed the importance of human activity not corrupting these water supplies. This could occur, for instance, as a result of people extracting oil from the beneath the surface of the planet. If the aquifers are appropriately managed and preserved, though, they potentially hold the key to staving off any immediate threats of global drought.
And it’s been suggested that aquifers can be found beneath oceans all over the world. In June 2019, in fact, reports of a potentially vast one off the coast of the United States began to emerge. Although its precise size was said to be as yet uncharted, it was nonetheless seen as potentially significant.
The aquifer in question is thought to span around 50 miles from the coasts of Massachusetts to New Jersey. It’s been proposed that it might even be the most significant aquifer so far located beneath any ocean on Earth. Apparently, if the aquifer were a lake on the Earth’s surface then it would be the sixth largest in the world. It measures approximately 15,000 square miles, after all.
The initial indications of an aquifer being located in this area originated over 40 years ago, mind you. During the 1970s, in fact, people drilling the area in search of oil occasionally happened upon freshwater in the ocean. It wasn’t clear at the time, though, whether or not these instances were indicative of anything more significant.
Some years later, a geophysicist named Kerry Key contributed towards the development of innovative methods for searching for oil. His approach sought to utilize electromagnetic imaging in order to explore beneath the seabed. Eventually, though, Key started to consider the notion that his techniques might be used to find freshwater reserves as well.
So in 2015 Key and a colleague from the WHOI named Rob L. Evans set sail. Together with some other peers, the pair started investigating the waters from New Jersey to Massachusetts. And eventually, the group of experts came to the conclusion that a huge aquifer lay beneath the ocean floor.
A Ph.D. student from Columbia University named Chloe Gustafson was also involved in the research. “We knew there was freshwater down there in isolated places, but we did not know the extent or geometry,” she said in June 2019, according to Fox News. “It could turn out to be an important resource in other parts of the world.”
The researchers involved in the study subsequently claimed that this particular aquifer emerged as a result of thawing glaciers. “Sea levels were much lower [during the last ice age], exposing much of what is now the underwater U.S. continental shelf,” Columbia University noted in a press release. “When the ice melted, sediments formed huge river deltas on top of the shelf, and freshwater got trapped there in scattered pockets. Later, sea levels rose.”
The experts have also claimed that the aquifer is maintained by a process called overland flow, as water flows over the Earth’s surface. According to Key, when rainwater travels through the shore, it can be sent towards the sea by tidal forces. To illustrate this, he provided an analogy of water traveling from the sides of a sponge to its center when it’s squeezed from top to bottom.
The water within the aquifer off the coast of America is said to be at its most fresh when it’s closest to the mainland. As it edges further out to sea, though, it’s thought to blend more with the seawater. In fact, there have been suggestions from the team that the water close to the shoreline is actually as pure as freshwater from other sources on land.
Even the saltier water at the far edge of the aquifer could potentially be treated to become drinkable, though. And this might prove to be an important means of obtaining new sources of clean water. “We probably don’t need to do that in this region,” Key has said. “But if we can show there are large aquifers in other regions, that might potentially represent a resource.”
Key and his colleagues reportedly want to broaden out their investigations into the subject, though. And perhaps their future findings could contribute towards the discovery of similar aquifers in other places. Examples such as Saharan Africa, the south of California and Australia have all been mentioned as potential locations to find sizable aquifers.
Water found in aquifers beneath the seabed still needs to be treated to make it drinkable, however. But this would nonetheless likely be a simpler and more efficient process than removing salt from pure seawater. Dr. Vincent Post, who was involved in the 2013 claim that freshwater lay beneath numerous seabeds, has elaborated upon this idea.
“Freshwater under the seabed is much less salty than seawater,” Dr. Post told VOA back in 2013. “This means it can be converted to drinking water with less energy than seawater desalination. And it would also leave us with a lot less hyper-saline water.”
It’s possible that aquifers beneath the ocean could help ease a worldwide water emergency, then. But these sources are not infinite, as Dr. Post has emphasized. “We should use them carefully,” he warned. “Once gone, they won’t be replenished until the sea level drops again, which is not likely to happen for a very long time.”
As this discovery proves, the ocean is full of things that have the power to take our breath away. In one corner of the planet, however, there’s a phenomenon that seems totally beyond belief. And when YouTuber ReubenMRU used his drone to capture said wonder, the resulting video revealed a stunning sight.
You see, the clip appears to capture shifting movements under the surface that, on closer inspection, almost defy logic. Astonishingly, the blue waters look to be continuously dropping, creating what can only be described as a waterfall below sea level. And it seems that the man who captured the footage has been wanting to witness this curious marvel for a while.
“The day after my birthday this year, I saw one of my dreams come true,” Reuben wrote in the description to his video, which was posted to YouTube in June 2018. “I went on a boat trip to the southwest coast of Mauritius and captured the now-famous underwater waterfall.” All in all, then, it may have been an unforgettable experience.
But what could be causing such a strange occurrence? And is it really possible that the Indian Ocean houses a waterfall below its surface? Well, as Reuben’s video suggests, something remarkable is happening off the coast of Mauritius. In fact, the entire area has a rather fascinating history.
Arab seafarers are believed to have been the first to have ventured onto Mauritius – which is around 1,200 miles off Africa’s southeast shore – in 975. These visitors named the tropical landmass, too, giving it the moniker Dina Arobi – presumably for navigational purposes. Yet there’s no record of any attempted colonization on the sailors’ part.
At least, that’s according to the information provided by Italian mapmaker Alberto Cantino in 1502. Going even further back, volcanic activity created Mauritius, after which it remained isolated for thousands of years. But even though no humans were present on the island for quite a while, this spot in the Indian Ocean was not entirely without life.
Indeed, many species evolved in their own ecological niche on Mauritius – although initially there were a distinct lack of mammals. Instead, the animals on the island were predominantly birds that lacked flying capabilities and large reptiles. And a varied selection of plants sprung up at the location, too.
Furthermore, some creatures had made a home in Mauritius well before humans came along. Take the dodo, for instance, which was a distant relative of a species of pigeon native to the area. This bird lived apparently unharassed for at least four million years on the island before voracious settlers arrived onshore.
Tragically, though, the dodo’s lack of natural predators meant it hadn’t evolved to fly or defend itself. When sailors started appearing on the island, then, they found the poor creatures a convenient source of food. And the situation only got worse for the birds in the early 1500s – the time when Portuguese seamen arrived on Mauritius.
Over the century that followed, spice traders and Dutch settlers brought invasive animal species to the island nation. And these foreign rats, monkeys and pigs all consumed dodo eggs. This constant feasting – combined with the efforts of humans – tragically served to drive the birds to extinction. Shockingly, hunters then killed the last known dodo in 1681, meaning the animal now only exists as a symbol in the coat of arms of modern-day Mauritius.
And in 1598 Dutch admiral Wybrand van Warwyck gave Mauritius its current name in honor of Prince Maurice of Nassau. Since then, the island has been home to both French and British colonizers before finally winning independence in 1968; it also emerged as a republic in 1992.
It should be noted, too, that the Republic of Mauritius actually incorporates the islands of St. Brandon, Rodrigues and Agalega as well as the isle after which the nation takes its name. Mauritius is the largest of the quartet, however, and it plays host to the republic’s capital city of Port Louis.
Perhaps inevitably, Port Louis boasts the greatest population of any city in the Republic of Mauritius. Not only that, but the metropolis also acts as the combined islands’ main political and economic hub. This is despite Rodrigues having its own government after being awarded autonomous status in 2002.
Yet the number of people on the islands is still small; the population census of 2012 revealed that Port Louis had only 149,194 inhabitants at that time. A 2018 estimation suggests, moreover, that there are fewer than 1.3 million people living in the republic itself. Regardless, though, the nation has its own distinct – albeit varied – culture.
Settlers from many different nations have exposed Mauritius to a melting pot of influences. And since the island was once a trade hub, it’s absorbed some of the nearby continents’ flavor, too. The result is apparent in Mauritius’ native architecture, which appears to take its cues from European styles along with those from India and East Africa.
However, thanks in part to the social upheaval that took place in Mauritius in the 20th century, the island nation’s distinctive buildings are no longer as pervasive as they used to be. Even historic campagnes – or houses constructed on the high grounds – have dwindled in number since the 1960s. And tourism has undoubtedly played its part in this phenomenon, as old buildings disappear in favor of developments tailored to cater for holidaymakers.
Thankfully, the local culture is still very much alive in its people. For example, around 86 percent of residents speak Mauritian Creole – a language that has its roots in French. Another 4 percent or so converse in Bhojpuri, which is otherwise largely heard in India. And traditional old colonial and Creole-style houses are still in existence – even if only a few remain.
Mauritian food is similarly varied and with clear influences from other nations. Perhaps inevitably, there’s some French and Chinese flavor in the island’s dishes, while Indian migrants also brought some of their own fare with them when they arrived. Then, of course, there is rum. At last count, there were four distilleries on the island, with vacationers all welcome to come and taste their wares.
And Mauritius is certainly an appealing destination for tourists – whether they’re seeking to kick back and relax in the balmy weather or to investigate the native flora and fauna. In fact, overseas visitors provide the fourth largest income to the republic’s economy. Officials predict, too, that the republic and its islands will draw in around 1.4 million people from all over the world in 2019.
Perhaps, then, holidaymakers want to see what once encouraged Mark Twain to enthuse, “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven was copied after Mauritius.” But what specifically makes the area so appealing? Well, according to
The Daily Telegraph, it may be down in part to Mauritius’ natural splendor.
The newspaper explained, “The east coast [of Mauritius] is most renowned, with some of the most celebrated hotels and stretches of arguably the most beautiful white sand beaches, while the flat, calm beaches of the west coast are favored by families. The ‘beautiful’ south is the island’s wilder but perhaps more interesting side.”
And as YouTuber Reuben revealed in the description to his 2018 video, he was on the southwest side of Mauritius when he released his drone over the nearby clear blue waters. The resulting footage captures Reuben’s boat as he sails along the stunning coast of the island, while eagle-eyed viewers can also catch sight of a peninsula known as Le Morne Brabant in the background.
Le Morne Brabant is by itself pretty noteworthy, as UNESCO gave the area World Heritage Site status in 2008. Among the peninsula’s most interesting features is a microclimate that marks it out weather-wise from the rest of the island, while the location also plays host to a pair of very rare plants.
Mandrinette – otherwise known as
Hibiscus fragilis – represents one of these species, and the evergreen flower is unique to the Republic of Mauritius. The other is Trochetia boutoniana, or “boucle d’oreille” in Creole, which is even more scarce. In fact, Le Morne Brabant’s mountains are the only place in which the shrub is known to grow in the wild.
And Le Morne Brabant also hosts a huge basalt rock that rises to more than 1,800 feet above the surrounding lagoon. This cave-riddled monolith is a prime site for tourists and has a coastal village nestled at the base. But, of course, the peninsula isn’t the only thing to be seen on Reuben’s footage.
You see, the drone’s journey proves that Mauritius still hums with activity; a number of brightly colored boats certainly line the lagoon’s waters. That’s not what Reuben is here for, though, and so the video ultimately passes them by and heads to another part of the island.
The clip then shows Reuben and his companions waving from their boat before the drone takes off again. And as the craft lifts into the air, viewers receive yet another amazing view of Le Morne Brabant. But this time, it isn’t the peninsula itself that’s the focus of the footage; instead, it’s the stunning sea.
And strikingly, when the drone’s at its peak, it appears that there’s something unusual at play in the ocean. The video shows turquoise waters flowing into a deeper blue center that then seem to drop off and fall further below the surface. Incredibly, then, it seems that there’s a waterfall below sea level.
The sight is altogether a stunning one that is only really available to view from above the waves. And given the sheer splendor of the phenomenon, it’s perhaps no surprise that the YouTuber isn’t the only one to draw attention to it; HuffPost is just one of several outlets to have featured shots of the jaw-dropping feature on its pages.
Nonetheless, the underwater waterfall isn’t entirely what it may appear to be at first glance. After all, the currents seem to be defying the laws of physics – making this something that would likely upturn science as we know it. But, believe it or not, there’s a good explanation. You see, there isn’t actually a waterfall at all off the coast of Mauritius.
Yes, what we perceive to be an outstanding and rather unusual natural wonder is in fact an optical illusion that comes as a consequence of the island’s unique geography. But don’t be entirely disappointed, as the mechanics of how this façade is created are pretty interesting in their own right.
To begin with, the islands that encompass the republic of Mauritius are comparatively new features on Earth – even if they were created several million years ago. Back then, volcanic activity shifted tectonic plates within the planet’s crust, creating new plateaus. Then, what’s known as seafloor spreading occurred, which in turn formed the oceanic shelf on which the islands rest.
And while most of the water in this part of the world meets the seabed at anywhere from 25 to 492 feet, the Republic of Mauritius’ islands are on the lip of the Mascarene plateau, which takes a sudden plunge into much deeper ocean. Specifically, the plateau drops more than 13,000 feet into what’s technically known as an abyssal zone.
What’s more, this particular abyssal zone is so far underwater that light doesn’t reach it, rendering the environment pitch black. And as a result, a whole ecosystem has evolved to include creatures that either don’t rely on sight or use artificial light sources to their advantage – such as the bizarre anglerfish, which employs a luminescent lure on its head to catch prey.
In addition, photos taken from the International Space Station reveal that the Mascarene plateau’s drop-off can be seen from its orbit. But if the ocean isn’t falling into the abyss, what’s actually causing the beautiful – if beguiling – underwater waterfall effect? Well, what you’re really seeing is sand cascading off the coastal shelf and into the darkness.
Yes, ocean currents are carrying sand from the Republic of Mauritius’ coast and sending it tumbling from the plateau. When this effect is seen from above, though, it creates the illusion of water rather than sediment falling. And when you think about it, this process is rather incredible in itself.
At the very least, the sight is pretty arresting in Reuben’s video. During the clip, the drone drops closer to the water for a close-up of the flow before returning to the YouTuber’s boat. And the footage captures Reuben smiling from ear to ear – seemingly overjoyed at having witnessed such a wonder.
Perhaps satisfied with a job well done, Reuben’s crew subsequently take their boat back across the ocean towards the shore, with the return trip showing yet another idyllic view of the Mauritius coast. This time around, however, the drone follows closely behind the seafarers as they sail among the other vessels milling around the coast.
So, while viewers of Reuben’s video may not actually be witnessing an underwater waterfall in action, the illusion is still entrancing. And, in fact, it turns out that such a rare feature isn’t beyond the realms of possibility – although you’ll have to travel rather far from Mauritius to see it with your own eyes.
The Atlantic Ocean’s Denmark Strait cataract sees warmer waters traveling from the west joining together with more tepid currents from the east. And thanks to the combination of those two streams, water here plunges to nearly 11,500 feet. What’s even more amazing, though, is that the heavier, cooler torrent keeps flowing even below the surface – thus creating a waterfall under the depths. Well played, nature.