21 | ABR | 2019

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Photo: Courtesy of Carters News Agency

“Hell Bells”

Mexico City
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Found in Mexico's sea

Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt) reported that a group of researchers found a unique type of mineral formation in Mexico called "Hell Bells", growing under water mediated by particular physical and biogeochemical conditions.

The meter-sized pendant cave formations were found in the submerged El Zapote sinkhole (cenote) west of Puerto Morelos on the Mexican Yucatán Peninsula.

These speleothem, characterized by bell or trumpet shapes, are the first in its kind in Mexico and apparently the largest calcareous structures in the world.

These cave formations had only been rarely detected in New Mexico, Spain, Germany, and the Alps.

On Twitter, Conacyt Prensa wrote in Spanish: "Mexican scientists discovered that the speleothems of El Zapote cenote in Quintana Roo are formed underwater with the help of bacteria."

Scientists explored the cenote and collected samples of the "bells" and the water surrounding them seeking to calculate the age of the structures. The samples were sent to the researcher Wolfgang Stinnesbeck of the Universität Heidelberg, in Germany and the findings showed that the speleothems have been growing from the middle Holocene (period roughly from 7,000 to 5,000 years ago) until the present time.

At that time, the sea level was 100 meters below the current level and the caves and cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula were dry. When the planet's temperature increased, the glaciers melted and the water level rose to its current level which led to a complete underwater growth, a unique feature among the speleothems.

The growth of the “Hell Bells” might be mediated by specific physical and biogeochemical conditions: A halocline (a subtype of chemocline caused by a strong, vertical salinity gradient within a body of water) microenvironment could cause the minerals to precipitate and, layer by layer, it might produce the "bells."


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