Caves of the Bahamas

They are beautiful, otherworldly, full of secrets, and can kill you. It takes bravery and special training to venture into the hydrogen sulfide atmosphere of the Bahama caves known as inland blue holes. Those who dare are looking for the chemistry of how our earth supports evolving life.
Offshore flooded caves, so-called ocean blue holes, are extensions of the sea, subject to the same heavy tides and host to many of the same species found in the surrounding waters. Inland blue holes, however, are unlike any other environment on Earth, thanks largely to their geology and water chemistry. In these flooded caves, such as Stargate on Andros Island, the reduced tidal flow results in a sharp stratification of water chemistry. A thin lens of fresh water—supplied by rainfall—lies atop a denser layer of salt water. The freshwater lens acts as a lid, isolating the salt water from atmospheric oxygen and inhibiting bacteria from causing organic matter to decay. Bacteria in the zone just below the fresh water survive by exploiting sulfate (one of the salts in the water), generating hydrogen sulfide as a by-product. Known on land as swamp or sewer gas, hydrogen sulfide in higher doses can cause delirium and death.

These strange but natural environments are threatened by both rising sea levels and people who use them for garbage dumps. Link

(Image credit: Wes C. Skiles/National Geographic)

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