The Unique Geology that Creates Florida Springs
by Erika Zambello -- October 15th, 2015
Before moving to Florida, I had little experience with its unique freshwater springs. Like many, my mental images of the state were primarily made up of beaches, warm ocean waters, and manatees. Truth be told, I had never even heard of these springs until my husband took me to one near his hometown for the first time.
Now that I’ve seen them, swam in their crystal clear waters, and learned their unique geology, I feel that Florida should be known for its iconic springs first.
The springs are like nothing I’ve ever seen. Where they occur they are absolutely clear, and thus their surfaces are often bright or deep blue, colors I didn’t think could occur naturally in a freshwater system. Morrison Springs were the first I visited since moving to Florida, located about an hour from the coast. This upwelling is big, covering a pond-size sphere before spilling downriver. The spring itself cascades up from underground, and though it was twenty feet down I could make out the pattern on the rocks, the leaves and sticks peppering the sandy bottom, and the outline of fish that made the pool their home. The temperature of the air was a hot and sticky 90 degrees F, but the water itself was a constantly cold 68 degrees, a temperature that never wavers.
How did these springs form? Where did they come from?
The answer is in simple geology. Rainwater gradually seeps through the ground to the aquifer beneath, purifying and cooling the water. In this region of Florida, limestone forms a rocky barrier between the ground and the aquifer; however, chemical reactions within the limestone allow large and long caves to form within the rock itself. When the groundwater is forced up in areas where the aquifer is closest to the surface, the Florida springs form, giving visitors access to both the spring water and the underground cave network. Springs are more common in North-Central Florida because the aquifer is closest to the surface.
Since I learned the science behind the springs, I have become mildly obsessed with them. I visited the two springs closest to where I live: Morrison Springs and Ponce de Leon Springs. I have stopped to see small springs at the edge of the Suwannee River, and larger springs at Lafayette Blue Spring State Park and Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park. Some really intense scuba divers frequently dive inside these cave systems, but I am content to view them from the surface or snorkel as deep as I dare.
Unfortunately, the springs and the unique ecosystems they support are in jeopardy. Pesticide, fertilizer, and other pollutants flow into some of the springs themselves, while in others bottling companies have set up residence and are now selling the spring water. Environmental groups are on top of it, working to protect the land around the springs, reduce pollution, and create an awareness campaign around the hashtags #SaveOurSprings and #FLSprings.
As for me, I’m drawn to these blue pools like a moth to a flame. In addition to recognizing their importance to the local ecosystems, I can’t help feeling like I am in Never-Never Land every time I plunge into the cool waters!