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Blue holes: Definition and genesis

Abstract

Blue holes are karst features that were initially described from Bahamian islands and banks, which have been documented for over 100 years. They are water-filled vertical openings in the carbonate rock that exhibit complex morphologies, ecologies, and water chemistries. Their deep blue color, for which they are named, is the result of their great depth, and they may lead to cave systems below sea level. Blue holes are polygenetic in origin, having formed: by drowning of dissolutional sinkholes and shafts developed in the vadose zone; by phreatic dissolution along an ascending halocline; by progradational collapse upward from deep dissolution voids produced in the phreatic zone; or by fracture of the bank margin. Blue holes are the cumulative result of carbonate deposition and dissolution cycles which have been controlled by Quaternary glacioeustatic fluctuations of sea-level.

Blue holes have been widely studied during the past 30 years, and they have provided information regarding karst processes, global climate change, marine ecology, and carbonate geochemistry. The literature contains a wealth of references regarding blue holes that are at times misleading, and often confusing. To standardize use of the term blue hole, and to familiarize the scientific community with their nature, we herein define them as follows: “Blue holes are subsurface voids that are developed in carbonate banks and islands; are open to the earth's surface; contain tidally-influenced waters of fresh, marine, or mixed chemistry; extend below sea level for a majority of their depth; and may provide access to submerged cave passages.” Blue holes are found in two settings: ocean holes open directly into the present marine environment and usually contain marine water with tidal flow; inland blue holes are isolated by present topography from surface marine conditions, and open directly onto the land surface or into an isolated pond or lake, and contain tidally-influenced water of a variety of chemistries from fresh to marine.

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Correspondence to John E. Mylroie.

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Mylroie, J.E., Carew, J.L. & Moore, A.I. Blue holes: Definition and genesis. Carbonates Evaporites 10, 225–233 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03175407

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Keywords

  • Karst Process
  • Deep Blue Color
  • Blue Hole
  • Carbonate Bank
  • Bank Margin