Scientists are working to learn more about underwater sinkholes at the bottom of the ocean, called blue holes.
They’re scattered across Florida’s Gulf continental shelf. Scientists describe them as old springs or sinkholes, likely formed 8,000 to 12,000 years ago. They’re planning to go on an exploratory trip to discover more about them.
“This is the first time these holes are really getting characterized to this extent so that’s fun it was always a dream to be a scientist,” said Emily Hall, Ph.D., a staff chemist and program manager at Mote Marine Laboratory.
Last year, scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch, Georgia Tech and the US Geological Society -- with support from the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Researched -- explored one located about 30 miles offshore of Sarasota., according to NOAA. It’s called “Amberjack Hole.”
In the coming weeks, researchers hope to explore an even deeper hole, called Green Banana.
“We know, for example in Amberjack Hole, there’s a lot of nutrients coming out of that hole and so we’re curious is that a source of nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico that we haven’t really started to consider as a way for organisms in the Gulf to get nutrients,” said Hall.
Hall said the holes also appear to be a source of carbon, which can have implications for future climate cycles. They also want to know whether there’s a connection to groundwater systems in Florida.
“If these holes are connected to our groundwater systems or our aquifer systems, it could be a possible way for saltwater seawater seepage into our groundwater ecosystem. We depend on that groundwater for our drinking water in a lot of areas and if we’re getting saltwater intrusion, that could be one area that’s happening. Also, these could be breeding grounds for fish,” she said.
“These could be nurseries for a lot of fish our fishermen love out there. So there are a lot of reasons to really care about this," Hall added.
Green Banana is located about 50 miles offshore about 155 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Hall said it’s about 100 feet in diameter and may drop around 450 feet.
The project is supported by NOAA. A spokesperson released the following statement:
“NOAA is supporting and funding this exciting research on blue holes in our marine backyard as part of the larger mission of the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research to help characterize our nation's ocean territory to benefit science, our economy, the environment and our cultural values.
Information on the blue holes and what lies within them will help resource managers identify, protect and manage areas of historic, cultural, economic and environmental importance to our nation. The project also helps educate the next generation of explorers. And with your help, information on this research and exploration spreads the word widely about the richness and mystery in our nation's watery back yard. And helps the public understand the value of the ocean to our nation and well being.”