The small piece of ocean squeezed between Florida and the Bahamas is one of the best-studied marine areas in the world, but it is also the beginning of an endless geological mystery.
Since the 1930s, scientists in the area have seen strange and fascinating white clouds, appearing on the turquoise calm above the water.
This phenomenon is called the ‘whiting event’, and scientists still do not understand why it happens in the Bahamas.
This has become a ‘white whale’ for researchers at the nearby University of South Florida (USF).
Light-colored ocean waves are sometimes seen in other oceans and seas around the world, but in the Bahamas, they are seen more frequently than usual.
Direct sampling of this cloud water shows that it contains a lot of carbonate particles.
Most of the Bahama Islands are located on a deep carbonate platform called the Bahama Banks. Does this mean mud is rising to the surface? Or could it be that phytoplankton blooms are creating suspended matter?
No one knows the answers to these questions, but scientists at USF are curious. They have used satellite images from NASA to show how the white matter moves and flows in the Bahamas.
The team doesn’t know whether their findings are natural or human-caused, but what they do know is that from 2003 to 2020, the growth of these white light events appears to be consistent with the seasons.
The largest patches occurred from March to May and October to December. On average, the white patches were about 2.4 square kilometers a piece. On a clear day, satellite images typically captured about 24 of the images, covering an area of 32 square kilometers (12 square miles).
Between 2011 and 2015, the patch suddenly expanded, reaching 200 nautical miles (77 km) at its peak. By 2019, the patches had shrunk again, although not as small as before.
The findings suggest that a 10-year cycle can occur. But what is the cycle really?
“I wish I could tell you why we’ve seen this increase, but we haven’t,” says USF oceanographer Chuanmin Hu.
“We see interesting relationships between the environment, such as pH, water salinity, and wind and tide patterns, but we can’t say what caused that peak. in the work.”
Direct direct testing is needed, not just in the Bahamas. Comparing white matter events in other areas can help scientists determine what they share.
The USF researchers tested their model on clean-up events in the Great Lakes with early success, but now they need to support the methods on land, or in water.
August 2 Satellite view of the Pyramid Lake Whiting event in its prime pic.twitter.com/SoPltG1lG3
– Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (@plpt) August 10, 2020
Some studies, for example, have shown that whitewash events occur more often in areas with muddy sediments.
In addition, it may be that certain sea conditions favor the suspension of sediment and calcium carbonate in the water. As mentioned earlier, the latest satellite data shows that white patches in the Bahamas are more common during the winter and winter, and this is when the Florida tides that go from north to south change.
Without much evidence, all these theories will be so.
This study was published in Remote Sensing.