Marine Geologists Find Freshwater in Norwegian Sea

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An international team of marine geologists has found evidence for meteoric water flow at 2,625 feet (800 m) below sea level near the Lofoten archipelago off northern Norway.

Hong et al found meteoric groundwater in two subsea canyons near the Lofoten archipelago, Norway. Image credit: NORCRUST / CAGE.

Meteoric groundwater is freshwater that originates from precipitation such as rain and snow.

The occurrence of such water in the global ocean is an unexpected but seemingly common phenomenon.

“When we the found freshwater leaking from the seabed, we were very surprised,” said Dr. Wei-Li Hong, a researcher at the Geological Survey of Norway.

“Fisherman in Nordland County told us that they also found freshwater in the sea, so pure that it could even be used for coffee. This was in Nordbreigrunnen, a few miles outside the town of Meløy.”

Dr. Hong and colleagues used a remote-controlled vehicle to collect the water during an expedition in 2017.

The leakage likely originated from a large aquifer hidden beneath the sediment of the seabed.

This phenomenon probably began during the last Ice Age. The thick ice caps that enveloped Norway pushed down on the crust of the Earth with tremendous force, squeezing large amounts of meltwater down through cracks in the seabed.

“This is a geological process that began millions of years ago when the water became trapped under the sediment. Only now is it finding its way through the cracks and faults again,” Dr. Hong said.

Recently, a team of U.S. researchers found freshwater in the Atlantic Ocean along the east coast of the United States.

“It’s the exact same phenomenon that we have here in Norway,” said Dr. Jochen Knies, also from the Geological Survey of Norway.

“The Atlantic Ocean aquifer extends along the coast from the southern tip of New Jersey to the northern end of Massachusetts.”

The findings suggest that there may be other such aquifers elsewhere in the world.

“Such large pockets of freshwater could be a potential resource in areas with no drinking water on land,” Dr. Knies said.

The team’s paper was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Wei-Li Hong et al. 2019. Discharge of Meteoric Water in the Eastern Norwegian Sea since the Last Glacial Period. Geophysical Research Letters 46 (14); doi: 10.1029/2019GL084237

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