Monday, August 27, 2012

The Black Hole of South Andros Island, The Bahamas

Old black water, keep on rollin' 

Recently I was doing some research into unusual places around the world and I came across a list of wet holes in the ocean and other random places. One of the places on the list was the Black Hole of South Andros Island in The Bahamas. I hate black water and I am wholly and completely petrified of the thought of water that is black. This includes bodies of water that I have no issue with during daylight hours because I can see bottom or because it's light outside and the water is not black. Night time near this same body of water will turn me into a shaking, petrified baby. It is irrational and I know it.

So there I was blithely checking out stories and pictures about this Black Hole online. At night. Why do I do this to myself? Of course it was just before I turned in and of course the only thing I could think about was this hole, devoid of light, and completely inhospitable as I'm trying to drift off to sleep.

Yay me, I'm a loser

There's nothing living in this hole, we are assured, except for microbes. Well, we don't KNOW that do we! I am a firm believer in the idea that we have not yet discovered ALL that lives on this planet. I'm pretty sure that IF something were living down there it would be huge and monstrous and have long teeth and it would not be a cartoonish deep water, gelatinous, blob fish [below]. At least not while I happened to be there. Which would be never.

Hah! The only thing scary here is black water

So anyway, this Black Hole has been explored by a couple of people. Nobody has died yet so that's good. Why is this hole black when all the other holes are crystal clear and blue tinged? Like this famous Blue Hole in Belize:

Still creepy but not so much because it's dark blue

One reason is that it is not sea water as we know it. It is three layers of liquids from the bowels of hell. Its layers are warm to hot in temperature and possess corrosive properties strong enough to eat the metal parts on a diver's equipment.

'Purple' sulpher bacteria looks yellow

The Black Hole has a layer of purple sulpher bacteria. They are often found in hot springs or stagnant water. Unlike plants, algae, and cyanobacteria other stuff, they do not use water as their reducing agent, and so do not produce oxygen. Instead they use hydrogen sulfide, which is oxidized to produce granules of elemental sulfur. This in turn may be oxidized to form sulfuric acid. [wiki]

The Black Hole is not filled with water. It is is filled with sulfuric acid. Also, the purple bacteria of death completely absorbs the light making the bottom layer velvety black and totally absent of light which is the stuff of nightmares as I believe I mentioned. Actually the top layer is an almost normal layer of water but does that really matter if you know what's lying below you while you paddle around in the top half of the hole?

Upper: brackish water Middle: pink bacterial layer
Lower: Oh, just some sulfuric acid. click for a larger view

The main difference between a "blue" hole and a "black" hole is that blue holes are more like a vertial cave connecting to the ocean and benefiting by regular exchanges of fresh water. By "fresh" I mean non-stagnant, oxygenated water. Black holes are columns filled with stagnant water and not connected to a water source like the ocean. Blue holes are lined with pristine white sand which reflects the healthy blue colour we've come to associate with nice water. Black holes have sulfuric acid spewing purple bacteria.

I went to Google Earth to find you a picture but could not locate any labels indicating its whereabouts. I'm pretty sure 'they' don't want you to find it as it is a location with a wealth of information scientists find useful and they don't want it disturbed. I combed South Andros Island for black hole-like formations and found this: 

Black Hole, centre, black and holey

Located a fair distance inland, where "fair distance inland" is still pretty close to the coast because it's an island, and only accessible by helicopter and really nasty treks over inhospitable land, this looks about as welcoming as any lair of Satan would look.

Dr. Stephanie Schwabe, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Kentucky, knows where this hole is and has been one of a handful of people who have dived it. It was she who discovered the purple bacteria. Here is an account of her first dive where she discovered what she thought was 'mud' at the 'bottom' of the hole and which was actually a pink middle layer, hot to the touch, and which undulated like jelly after she removed her hand in surprise after feeling the heat. I would have been out of there so fast I would have been a cartoon. Legs looking like a spinning circle under me as I ran across the top of the water like the Roadrunner and that isn't even the bad layer.

Here is a description of the dive into the bottom layer in the words of one blogger:
Schwabe and company discovered a hot, jelly-like layer of bacteria that formed a barrier between a relatively normal environment above and a pitch-black, oxygen-free zone beneath, where hydrogen sulfide (a lethal neurotoxin) slowly soaked through the divers’ skin. Deciding this was not a great place to hang around, the team returned to the surface to discover all their silver or chrome-plated metal had turned black during the brief time away. Subsequent testing has not yet determined if the divers were also driven mad by the chanting of ageless evil beings who dream of a world free of cursed sunlight, but the smart money is on “probably.”
If you dare, here is a two part series on the dive. Tell me what it was like because I can't watch it because I'm a weenie.


Melvin O. Crabsnorkle said...

This probably freaks you out then too.

Frimmy said...

If I were in the water, at night and heard that...? And, yes, that is exactly the kind of possible undiscovered creature I'm thinking about when I think of bottomless black water. Something that is so loud you can hear it 5,000 away.