Dr. Thomas Pichler, one of the invited research lecturers during the last Sea and Learn series, recently contacted the Saba Conservation Foundation with details about the results of the tests conducted. Dr. Pichler had collected water samples during his stay to supplement his presentation on volcanic activity in Saba. The collected samples from multiple sites provided a range of scientific data on the hot springs and the sites of light orange-coloured, sandy patches within the coral reefs, along the west side of the island. Dr. Pichler started from the assumption that the patches of colouration and the elevated temperature were a result of “remnant volcanism” associated with heat flow.
In his report to the Saba Conservation Foundation, Dr. Pichler explains that the remaining volcanic activity causes water to circulate under the floor of the sea, where it meets with cold water, creating a cycle of heat exchange. Sulphur spring samples were also taken from the seashore area exposed to the tides and were analysed in comparison with regular seawater, to identify ongoing chemical processes at the higher temperatures. Several elements were found to be substantially different, indicating that the sampled, heated water interacted with volcanic rocks. The finding of low magnesium values indicates the hydrothermal history of the island. In combination with other findings, such as high lithium and arsenic values, Dr. Pichler is able to classify the springs as of “mature hydrothermal fluid.” The consistency of findings and a battery of other factors taken into account in the report led the researcher to summarise the research findings as pointing to “a hydrothermal contribution to the coral reefs, along the west coast of Saba.”
The core interest of the researcher is in further studying “how life adapts to extreme situations and how life flourishes under extreme conditions.” The next step in the study would require implementation of scientific temperature-monitoring of the coloured, sandy patches, especially as it is expected to reveal further data on the progress of volcanic activity in Saba. Such knowledge would have repercussions not just for conservation purposes, but also for a better understanding of resources or risks for the island community.