Thursday, October 10, 2013

Water on Mars

I'm not quite sure what the consensus is about water on Mars, but I do believe that if there were pools of water there, we now know exactly what they would look like. I can't pretend to be an astronaut or an astronomer, but flooded Troy Spring felt like swimming on Mars.

Same place, (very) different view.
February 10, 2013
October 6, 2013

This past Sunday was Val's birthday and a celebration was in order, so we piled in the car and headed up past Fort White to Branford where we found Troy Spring, a ~70' deep spring feeding into the Suwannee River. Thankfully the government shutdown didn't affect our plans to swim on another planet (Troy is a State Park, not a National Park). It had reopened the day before after being closed for a few weeks due to flood conditions - and what was left after the flood was certainly a drastic change from the last time I dove there in mid-February.

We jumped in with GoPros and cameras to join some beginner open water scuba divers and an intense camo-suited free-diving class. In any other situation, I would laugh at the camo wetsuits and make some absurd southern comment (they could at least wear those blue camo-printed suits people wear in the ocean!), but the greenish-brown color of the water was actually perfect for their color scheme if they were planning on blending in with their environment. Equipped with hoods, weight belts, and long fins, they elegantly dipped head-first from the surface and slipped into the darkness only a few feet below, emerging long minutes later from the brown abyss.

Camo-suited free-divers.
What I previously remember as a clear, light-greenish-tinged bowl of water with a fierce flow and a bunch of Vaucheria algae, had become a still, brownish alien planet. There was no algae to be found, only silt that covered everything like a thin layer of snow. Leaves lay motionless on the bottom, sadly and hopelessly waiting for a fall breeze to blow them away.
A wind-less fall day.
We swam around in the main basin for a while, taking pictures while making the best of the low visibility and little pieces of floating sand and matter in the water that made for a snow-like appearance in our photos. We also watched the free-divers disappear and slowly re-appear one by one. On our way out to explore the spring run, I stopped at my favorite swim-through. Usually, you have to take a big breath and brace yourself for a fast, cork-popping-out-of-the-bottle push through the little cavern. But this time, instead of the water spitting you out the other side, it was a still, leisurely, flow-less swim through what felt like a completely different place.
A calm and serene scene as seen from the cavern.
The ancient, haunting-looking ship wreck and plentiful mullet near the river were an endless source of entertainment. The hot water from the river was a continuous temptation, as little plumes spiraled into the chilly spring water and attempted to coerce us into the tannic zero visibility river. We floated and watched as the mullet disappeared and looked (as usual) as happy as little kids in a candy shop.
Shipwreck (where I first met Harry while snorkeling with Kate!)
Mullet disappearing into the warm river.
Were you playing and eating in the sand?
If you had asked me in February, I would have told you that Troy was about to dry up. At the end of the rainy season, the staff gauge was unusable because the water was so low and boatloads of algae were symptoms of the sick spring. But this past weekend, the opposite was true: water was midway up the stairs and cypress knees and trees were completely submerged. The staff gauge was not readable because the water was too high. All of the algae (and any submerged plants for that matter) were shaded by the silt and dark water, inhibiting growth of anything and making the spring devoid of much wildlife. This is just another reason that visiting the same springs over and over never gets old - but also a wary warning that perhaps neither of these ecosystem states are healthy.
February 10, 2013                      October 6, 2013

More photos are HERE.

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