Was Drinking Water Found Beneath Atlantic Ocean?

Chloe Gustafson is a scientist with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University in Palisades, New York. She is working on her Ph.D. in geophysics using EM (electromagnetic) methods to detect water sources. She and two colleagues (one at Columbia University and the other at Woods Hole, MA) have made an important discovery. Groundwater has been found beneath saline ocean water in the Atlantic Ocean! Buried in deep sediments several hundred feet beneath the seafloor, the water quality ranges from fresh to brackish and may one day, with treatment, could become a source of potable water.

NBC news reported, “The new found aquifer spans about 15,000 square miles, stretching from New Jersey out beyond Martha’s Vineyard, and is thought to hold about 670 cubic miles of brackish water. That’s equivalent to more than half the total volume of Lake Michigan.”

The water appears to be a remnant of Ice Age glacial melt water that flowed off of land into the ocean. This discovery could have huge implications for many coastal areas, such as mentioned by NBC News for the water-starved city of Chennai, India as reported in a recent blog.

Here is the abstract (with full paper in the link) for the peer-reviewed article in Nature (a Springer publication) titled Aquifer systems extending far offshore on the U.S. Atlantic margin

“Low-salinity submarine groundwater contained within continental shelves is a global phenomenon. Mechanisms for emplacing offshore groundwater include glacial processes that drove water into exposed continental shelves during sea-level low stands and active connections to onshore hydrologic systems. While low-salinity groundwater is thought to be abundant, its distribution and volume worldwide is poorly understood due to the limited number of observations. Here we image laterally continuous aquifers extending 90 km offshore New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on the U.S. Atlantic margin using new shallow water electromagnetic geophysical methods. Our data provide more continuous constraints on offshore groundwater than previous models and present evidence for a connection between the modern onshore hydrologic system and offshore aquifers. We identify clinoforms as a previously unknown structural control on the lateral extent of low-salinity groundwater and potentially a control on where low-salinity water rises into the seafloor. Our data suggest a continuous submarine aquifer system spans at least 350 km of the U.S. Atlantic coast and contains about 2800 km3 of low-salinity groundwater. Our findings can be used to improve models of past glacial, eustatic, tectonic, and geomorphic processes on continental shelves and provide insight into shelf geochemistry, biogeochemical cycles, and the deep biosphere.”