Over the summer months of 2012, Stephanie Schwabe will lead a team of scientists and enthusiasts to the “Bahamian outback,” a remote area of Andros Island, to research the mysteries of blue holes. Under the guidance of The Rob Palmer Blue Holes Foundation, the team will visit multiple blue holes, some explored and some not, to continue gaining insights into these unique natural phenomena.
If all goes according to plan, Dr. Schwabe and her team will be the first scientists to visit the target areas. The initial plan for 2012 is to explore the vertical cave systems that are sprinkled throughout South Andros (red dots on map below). These areas are so remote that the only way in is by air, in their case a Wessex helicopter with an extended range that will allow exploration of areas in the Bahamas that would normally not be reachable by conventional helicopters. The Wessex, which will be based in Nassau, will be able to carry more passengers and equipment per load, keeping the costs down and allowing for more time spent on the ground.
Blue holes are unique geologic formations created during past ice ages by erosion by chemicals and weathering. Most are found in limestone-rich regions, as limestone is a fairly "soft" stone and erodes easily. When the ice ages ended, water from melting glaciers filled the eroded holes. Over time, corrosive reactions deep under water wore away at the walls of the holes, and presently most connect to the sea through tunnels, called "arms". A such, most blue holes contain both fresh and salt water, making them uniquely hostile environments for life. Add to the brackish water that most are anoxic (have low oxygen levels) below a certain depth, and you end up with an ecosystem suitable only for bacteria. Dr. Schwabe and her team hope to discover new information about these strange bacteria, and perhaps even stumble onto a new "species"!