Scientists in China have discovered a “terrifying amount of water” underneath a desert area in northwestern Xinjiang. The amount of salt water beneath the Tarim basin is thought to be ten times what is found in all five Great Lakes in North America combined.
Professor Li Yan and a team of scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography in Urumqi made the discovery.
“This is a terrifying amount of water,” said Professor Li Yan, “Never before have people dared to imagine so much water under the sand. Our definition of desert may have to change.”
The Tarim is the world’s largest landlocked basin and is also home to the Taklamakan Desert, which has an area of 337,000 km2. Scientists have suspected for a while that melting water from mountains could have ended up beneath the basin but the exact amounts have remained unknown.
The team stumbled across the water reserves by accident as they were actually searching for carbon. They were able to obtain nearly 200 deep underground water samples from across the desert.
However, the “ocean” is unlikely to be able to serve a purpose in the near future because, as well as being salty, it also contains a large amount of carbon dioxide.
“It’s like a can of coke. If it is opened all the greenhouse gas will escape into the atmosphere,” Lee said.
Oceans, soil, forest and the atmosphere all store carbon. It is hoped that discovering more about areas such as this which maybe acting as a “carbon sink” will help scientists understand more about climate. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans and coral.
The find has now raised the question as to whether more “oceans” could be hidden under desert areas such as the Sahara.