2013 MCEP Project

2013 MCEP Project

Mexico Cave Exploration Project (MCEP)

This past December, MCEP and CINDAQ have again brought together GUE divers from 13 different countries to participate in the bi-annual Science and Survey Project along the Caribbean Coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
This particular project concentrated on supporting the scientific efforts of Dr. Eduard Reinhardt and his team from McMaster University in Canada and also in creating a cenote map to support GUE’s collaboration with scientists in the Netherlands.

The project took place from December 9 to 14 and was based mainly in the southern part of the Ox Bel Ha Cave system. Ox Bel Ha is believed to be one of the largest water filled cave in the world. The vast size, diversity and pristine water make it a prime location for cave related studies.

Camobians and foraminifera are amoebas that inhabit fresh to marine water environments around the world. They have exploited every aquatic niche from the deep sea to lakes and marshes. These organisms produce a shell (microfossil), which are about the size of a grain of sand, and are found in abundance in the sediment-with a tablespoon often containing thousands of specimens. They are also very sensitive to environmental change, with certain species living in specific aquatic environments. This makes them very useful for reconstructing past environments and how they changed through time. So, Dr Reinhardt’s team can retrieve a sediment core, examine the succession of microfossils in the sediments and reconstruct environmental changes that have occurred in that location through time.

In relation to the study explained above, during the project the team measured 11 sediment transects, 39 sediment traps were collected and replaced, two cores were extracted and 10 sediment depth measurements were taken.

During the December science project, another study was initiated by Shawn Kovacs a Ph D. student from Dr Reinhardt's team. The study focuses on calcite rafting. Calcite rafts (also referred as floating rafts or leopard spots) form on the air-water interface of quiescent (cave environment) bodies of water and are morphologically distinct from other calcite precipitates: the side of the raft that is exposed to the air is completely flat, whereas developed calcite crystals attach and grow from the other side that is exposed to the water interface. In coastal karst basins of the Yucatan, groundwater is often supersaturated in calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and the caves atmosphere is typically pCO2-depressed, causing the process of groundwater to off-gas and calcite to precipitate at the water surface. When there is a disturbance in the surface water or when gravitational forces on the calcite raft exceed surface tension, the floating calcite rafts sink and become a part of the sediment record.. A total of 65 calcite samples were collected from a wide range of cave sites.

Sixteen other cave locations along the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo were also accessed including the very unique Cenote Zapote located some 80 kilometers to the North. This site if often referred to as Hell’s Bell’s describing the very unique bell structures present in the 30-40 meter depth range of the sink-hole. GUE has teamed up with a science team from Amsterdam University to learn more about the unique elements of this karst window. Initial tasks began with the creation of a map and the installation of two depth and temperature sensors.

Dr Chris Werner chief scientist for the WKPP first installed temperature sensors in Ox Bel Ha in 2001. The collection of a cave temperature data base is important in contributing to a better understanding of the aquifer in the region, and of caves in general. In recent years, the "Adopt a Sensor" program was initiated to continue on with the collection of temperature data while involving more of the diving community. In conjunction with Reefnet, CINDAQ is able to provide low cost temperature and depth sensors to those interested in playing an important role in the collection and distribution of baseline underwater data. Divers, diving groups or other interested individuals are invited to “adopt” a sensor. From Dec 10 to 13, a total of 34 sensors were retrieved and 32 were installed after download. The depth changes recorded were of particular interest as the area has seen one of the wettest periods on record leading to some cenote water levels rising by more than 3 meters!

Erik Birkhoff, Chantelle Blanchard, Steve Blanchard, Ivan Borovikov, Tim Chase, Angelica Chimal Teh, Shawn Collins, Maria Contança Duarte Costa Sousa Goncalves, Fred Devos, Peter Gaertner, Heleen Graaw, Osama Gobara, Katalin Guti-Nagy, Joaquim Hjelm, Sander Jansson, Jan Kleene, Evan Kornacki, Shawn Kovacs, Delfin Machado, Chris Le Maillot, Johannes Lock, Jan Mulder, (Alex) Sverdlov Oleksii, Rafal Palucha, Paulina Paupierska, Alison Perkins, Forest Rothchild, Renato Raseta, Eduard Reinhardt, Cameron Russo, Aaron Stretch Altenhein, Manuela Schoch, Zsolt Szilagyi, Hubert Urbanczyk, Onno Van Eijk

The next science project is scheduled for May 19 to 24, 2014. Interested GUE divers can contact info@mcep.org.mx for more information.