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

Matthew P. Humphreys*, Erik H. Meesters, Henk De Haas, Szabina Karancz, Louise Delaigue, Karel Bakker, Gerard Duineveld, Siham De Goeyse, Andreas F. Haas, Furu Mienis, Sharyn Ossebaar, Fleur C. Van Duyl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


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 "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 μmolkg-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 were too extreme to represent future marine environmental responses to anthropogenic CO2 emissions on human timescales but may reflect the impact of proposed schemes to mitigate climate change by the deliberate addition of CO2 and/or alkalinity to seawater. Other Luymes Bank sinkholes did 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-358
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2022


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