Science Report

From August 2000 to December 2004, a team of multi-discipline scientists and divers conducted studies related to the overall distribution of water properties within the coastal karst aquifer of the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.  Dr. Christopher Werner, Kris Esterson and others with the collaboration of local GUE divers, Fred Devos, Chris Le Maillot, and Daniel Riordan along with Alex Alvarez and Sam Meacham placed instruments into several underwater cave systems.  The instruments were carried via divers of the Exploration Research Institute, a GUE affiliate organization, and the Grupo de Exploration Ox Bel Ha.  The objective of the study was to describe the overall distribution of water properties within the aquifer and establish it as an underwater estuary.


Science data stations were established where water profiles were taken and an overview map was sketched.  Detailed surveys and maps were used to pinpoint station locations before and after the dives.  Several scientific instruments were used to collect data which included water quality data sondes, strategically placed temperate loggers, dye tracing detection and flow meters.  The instruments were raised to the roof of the cave passage and slowly lowered, in a vertical profile through the water column to the floor via the divers. The water properties based on the parameters of temperature, salinity and density were collected.


These properties were used to draw similarities with traditional estuaries and explore more fully the concept of a subterranean estuary. The team also expended much effort to the photo-documentation of the subterranean estuary and cave passages with photography using custom made 1200 watt lighting strobes and video footage was also acquired.


The study provided a glimpse into a carbonate aquifer that may be used to further our understanding of coastal mixing zones.  The observations in this study can be extrapolated to similar environments within Florida and used to better understand the static relationships between fresh groundwater and coastal seawater.  The measurement techniques of this study can also be used in similar environments to help delineate the distribution on relevant parameters.


This project helped to produce original research in the form of a Master’s Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation.  Initial findings from water property distributions suggest that the fluid system within the subterranean aquifer is stably stratified with cool fresh groundwater overlying warm saline seawater.  These water layers appear to mix in places creating a middle layer of slightly warm and slightly saline waters.  This situation may lead to stable and unstable natural fluid stratification which result in specialized mixing of waters within the middle layer.  However, many questions remain as to the scope and specific mechanism which allow these interactions to occur.


Data collection began in September 2009 by deployment of instruments, such as water quality meter and temperature loggers, to investigate seasonal fluctuations of the waters within the coastal Yucatan aquifer and further documentation of the natural estuaries.  The project intends to revisit and resample all original stations established from 2000 to 2004 and to document changes which have taken place over the last five years.  This effort will be linked to GUE’s Project Baseline.  For more information, please contact Dr. Werner.

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