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The American Geophysical Union has published a new study that explains why salt crystals accumulate on the bottom of the Dead Sea. The results of these findings could help scientists understand the formation of large scale salt deposits in the past.
The Dead Sea is known as the lowest point in the world and one of the saltiest waters in the world. The lake is almost ten times saltier than the average seawater.
Researchers have long considered how the less dense, salty, warm water on the top of the lake "snows" down to where the denser, cooler water is located. This scenario allegedly contradicts the law of physics, where slightly less density falls down into a denser area.
"At first, you shape these tiny fingers that are too small to watch … but they interact quickly as they move down and form ever larger structures," said Raphael Ouillon, a mechanical engineer of the University of California Santa Barbara and lead author of the new study.
The scientists suggested that when waves and movements disrupt the lake, some of the warm water enters and mixes with the cool water. As the warm water quickly dissolves and cools, part of the salt falls out. This salt then forms crystals and sinks to the ground.
The study confirmed its suspicion by means of a computer simulation: The movement in the water causes the salt to slowly collect and form "salt fingers" at the bottom of the lake.
"We know that many places in the world have thick salt deposits in the earth's crust, and these deposits can be up to a kilometer thick," said another leading researcher, Eckart Meiburg. "However, we are not sure how these salt deposits originated during geological history."
An example is the Strait of Gibraltar, which was once closed and later dried up, leaving behind thick salt deposits. Based on this study of the Dead Sea, researchers believe that salt has reached the bottom of the lake in the same way.
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