Dissolution of a submarine carbonate platform by a submerged lake of acidic seawater

Submarine sinkholes are found on carbonate platforms around the world. They are thought to form and grow when groundwater interactions generate conditions corrosive to carbonate minerals. Because their morphology can restrict mixing and water exchange, the effects of biogeochemical processes can accumulate such that the sinkhole water properties considerably diverge from the surrounding ocean. Studies of sinkhole waters can therefore reveal new insights into marine biogeochemical cycles, thus sinkholes can be considered as ‘natural laboratories’ where the response of marine ecosystems to environmental variations can be investigated. We conducted the first measurements in recently discovered sinkholes on Luymes Bank, part of Saba Bank in the Caribbean Netherlands. Our measurements revealed a plume of gas bubbles rising from the seafloor in one of the sinkholes, which contained a constrained body of dense, low-oxygen ([O2] = 60.2 ± 2.6 μmol · kg−1), acidic (pHT = 6.24 ± 0.01) seawater that we term the ‘acid lake’. Here, we investigate the physical and biogeochemical processes that gave rise to and sustain the acid lake, the chemistry of which is dominated by the bubble plume. We determine the provenance and fate of the acid lake’s waters, which we deduce must be continuously flowing through. We show that the acid lake is actively dissolving the carbonate platform, so the bubble plume may provide a novel mechanism for submarine sinkhole formation and growth. It is likely that the bubble plume is ephemeral and that other currently non-acidic sinkholes on Luymes Bank have previously experienced ‘acid lake’ phases. Conditions within the acid lake are too extreme to represent coming environmental change on human timescales but in some respects reflect the bulk ocean billions of years ago. Other Luymes Bank sinkholes host conditions analogous to projections for the end of the 21st century and could provide a venue for studies on the impacts of anthropogenic CO2 uptake by the ocean.

Humphreys M. P., Meesters E. H., de Haas H., Karancz S., Delaigue L., Bakker K., Duineveld G., de Goeyse S., Haas A., Mienis F., Ossebaar S. & van Duyl F. C., 2021. Dissolution of a submarine carbonate platform by a submerged lake of acidic seawater. Biogeosciences Discuss. Article.

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