That’s equivalent to more than half the total volume of Lake Michigan, according to Chloe Gustafson, a doctoral student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the leader of the survey that revealed the aquifer. “It’s important to remember, though, that these aren’t open caverns or lakes underneath the seafloor,” Gustafson said. “This is water trapped within the pores of rocks, so it’s sort of like a water-soaked sponge.
Extracting the water locked in the rock layers and treating it to make it potable would likely be costly and possibly impractical, Fisher added — though he said it might be a reasonable option in parts of the world facing crippling water shortages. “When communities are faced with no other choices except the expensive ones, then the expensive choices start looking alright,” Fisher said. “We’re seeing more and more communities looking for ways to secure fresh water.
Hints of fresh water springs coming from below the seafloor have been found off the coasts of California, South Carolina and Greenland, and future studies could identify subsea aquifers in other coastal regions.
But Fogg and Fisher, neither of whom was involved in the discovery of the aquifer, praised the researchers for pioneering a way to find such reservoirs. “I think it’s exciting that we now have these tools that can help us map out water resources over a large area,” Fisher said. “It’s a really terrific study.
Gustafson said scientists had known since the 1970s that a vast formation like the one the researchers found could exist off the east coast, after companies drilling for offshore oil found evidence of fresh water deposits nearby.
Since saltwater conducts electromagnetic waves better than fresh water, the researchers could pinpoint the aquifer based on the fields produced beneath the seafloor.
The research showed that the deposits of the relatively fresh water start at the shoreline and extend out as far as 75 miles, near the edge of the continental shelf, Gustafson said.
A vast reservoir of relatively fresh water has been discovered locked within layers of porous rock beneath the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast of the U. S.