Scientists have discovered a huge reservoir of potentially fresh water hidden beneath the ocean off the east coast of the United States
The formation is an aquifer — an underground layer of permeable rock that can contain groundwater. A survey of the region showed it stretches 50 miles out and extends from at least Massachusetts to New Jersey — and possibly as far as Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.
Water locked up could be 670 cubic miles — almost as much water as can be found in Lake Huron (850 cubic miles). It would also make the aquifer the biggest formation of its kind.
The discovery is important as researchers believe similar aquifers may exist across the globe — potentially providing a source of fresh water in regions where access to this resource is becoming more and more limited.
Access to fresh water is a huge concern for billions of people across the planet. According to the World Health Organization, 785 million people do not have access to even a basic drinking water service, while by 2025, half of the global population will be living in "water-stressed areas."
A team of researchers, led by Chloe Gustafson from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, building on previous surveys that had shown pockets of fresh water existed in the sediments beneath the salty ocean.
oil would occasionally hit a pocket of freshwater instead. However, it was unclear whether these were isolated regions, or if they represent pieces of a larger structure. In 201
The team used receivers placed on the seafloor to measure the electromagnetic fields beneath. They also emitted artificial electromagnetic pulses and recorded the reactions. Saltwater is a better conductor of electromagnetic waves than fresh water – so a band of low conductance indicated the presence of fresh water.
"We knew there was fresh water down there in isolated places, but we did not know the extent or geometry , "Gustafson said in a statement.
Findings showed that the freshwater pockets were pretty much continuous. They started at the shore and extended out to 75 miles. The deposits were found to start at a depth of around 600 feet and stretched down to about 1,200 feet.
The team say their findings helped improve models of the history of the continental shelves, providing insight into the cycles that drive them . It is thought that the water could have gotten through one of two ways – that it was locked up at the end of the last year, or that it is currently being fed by subterranean runoff from the mainland. The team believes the laughter may be more likely, as measured by the water's salinity shows the further out it is, the saltier it gets.
The discovery also indicates that other, major reservoirs of fresh water could be affected by the ocean— and that these aquifers could provide a vital resource for people living in regions of water scarcity. "It could turn out to be an important resource in other parts of the world," said Gustafson.