Explorers have just mapped the depths of the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize.
Credit: Aquatica Submarines
The explorers reached the bottom of the Great Blue Hole, a sprawling gulf off the coast of Belize. When the expedition is over, they are back to tell the story of new ice cubes, unfortunate dead molluscs and plastic bottles.
The team of explorers – Fabien Cousteau, grandson of filmmaker and explorer Jacques Cousteau, who made the abyss famous; Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and co-founder of Ocean Unite; and Erika Bergman, of Aquatica Submarines – mapped the depths of the 407-foot-deep (124-meter) hole using sound waves. [In Photos: Stunning Sinkholes]
When sound waves hit various objects and formations, they bounce distinctly depending on the size and shape of the objects they touch. Using these sonar scans, the researchers created the first complete 3D sonar map of the chasm, which reaches 1,043 feet (318 m) wide.
In the midst of mapping this massive geography, they have also made fascinating discoveries.
They discovered new stalactites, or ice-like mineral growths, that formed when the sea level was about 500 feet lower and that the hole was only a dry cave, according to one Bergman's article on his blog. Over time, the cave eventually collapsed into today 's chasm, filled with caverns punctuated by stalactites.
Explorers termed an area of the hole in "conch graveyard" after observing hundreds of dead conch or mollusc that had apparently fallen into the hole, could not come back and were finally lacking oxygen and dying, writes Bergman.
They found tiny traces on which the conch had tried to climb the hill, as well as tiny marks of slide where they seemed to go down. Although it is a sad marine tale, the impressive number of conch shells they found indicates that the conch population is probably healthy, she wrote.
Their findings will be detailed in an upcoming INE Entertainment documentary, due out in the spring.
"The real monsters that face the ocean are climate change and plastic," wrote Branson in a separate post, evoking the team's discovery of plastic bottles at the bottom of the hole.
Originally published on Science live.