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Life detected in the Dead Sea

Israeli and German scientists recently took the plunge into the murky, salty Dead Sea, making what they say is the first scientific diving expedition there. Scouring the seafloor, they saw small freshwater springs—with mats of salt-loving, never-before-seen microorganisms coating the surface of nearby craters. In these waters—too salty for large animals, too rich in magnesium for many bacteria—seeing so much life was a surprise.

While floating in the Dead Sea is a popular tourist pastime, scuba-ing into its depths is a difficult and dangerous endeavor. Since the salty water is so buoyant, the divers had to carry 90 pounds each to weigh them down. Swallowing some of the salty water—a not-implausible occurrence during a dive—would make the larynx swell up, leading the diver to suffocate. If that weren’t enough, getting the water in your eyes would be painful at best, and potentially blinding. The scientists wore full face masks during their dive, and apparently weren’t scared off; they’re headed back down for a follow-up study in October.

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