Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Xbulla! A remarkable drowned cenote

Not long ago we had cenotes on the mind... 

... and over this past weekend, I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon reading about the geology and hydrogeology of the Yucatán peninsula.  

In the process, I came across this completely amazing photo that I had to share.  

This is Xbulla, a cenote that was once on land, but as time passed and the coastline moved, it became submerged in the sea.  But as you can see, fresh water still flows freely from the mouth of the cenote, creating an amazing upwelling about 0.5 km offshore in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  

P/C:  The Hydrogeology of the Yucatán, Perry, Velazquez-Oliman, and Socki

I've seen fresh water springs in the ocean before.  They're actually fairly common along the coast of Florida and Hawai'i, where large amounts of freshwater flows through the rock (kaartstic limestone in Florida and the Yucatán, volcanic rock in Hawai'i).  But I've never seen a flow rate like this where the freshwater actually causes a bump in the ocean surface!  

For instance, at Crescent Beach in Florida, there's a spring that's visible from the surface: 

P/C Seaxp.com

That circular patch of water is the freshwater flowing upward and dampening the waves at that point. 

As remarkable as that is, it's not quite as vigorous as Xbulla. It's pretty placid and quiet.   

Alas, I haven't been able to spot Xbulla on Google Earth or Maps, although I know it's located near the tiny village of Mina de Oro (click on that link if you want to see where it is).  

Anyone have any good images of Xbulla or other dramatic submarine freshwater springs? 

Search on! 


  1. Hawai'i ? Is that in the proper English usage?

    1. Depends on who you ask. Since I have good friends in Hawai'i, who consider it a misspelling without the okina, I've tended to follow their lead. For the discussion, see: http://www.kitv.com/story/31441842/hawaii-or-hawaii-whats-the-official-spelling

  2. Hello Dr. Russell and everyone

    Very interesting and new for me. Thanks for sharing, Dr. Russell.

    I wanted to search and know more about it so tried:

    [Xbulla Yucatan] [Xbulla cenote] [Xbulla spring] and so many more and found just few results and zero in Spanish. That was unexpected. So tried different approach. With the near point you mentioned plus Spring is manantial tried:

    [cenotes manantial dzilam de bravo] Links are in Spanish

    manantial de agua dulce Xbuya ha

    name confirmed

    [bocas de dzilam] in images and videos and after that simple [Xbuya Ha]

    Not so good but shows the water flowing

    Another video

    [dzilam de bravo ojo de agua national geographic] Information from G+ but I don’t know anymore how to share from there to other sites. Therefore, looked for the information on the site mentioned.

    I noticed after reading that the author of this article is the same creator of YouTube video

    Dzilam Bravo y su excepcional ojo de agua” Este ojo de agua Xbuya Ha fue motivo para que National Geographic hiciera una expedición en el 2003. ¿Qué tiene de especial? Por el agujero de su diámetro pueden llegar a salir 3600 litros de agua por minuto”/ “ National Geographic made an expedition on 2003 to this site. What is so special about it? Water flows in a rate of 3600 liters per minute”.

    ["dzilam de bravo" national geographic] [Xbuya National Geographic] just 1

    Xbuya Submarine Spring

  3. Good Morning, Dr. Russell. I just saw this news

    2 images show before/after of Texas with Hurricane Harvey

    Those photos made me wonder if they used the same tools you did on this Challenge
    Answer: How can you see across time?

  4. Hi Dan. I took up your challenge to find out where this cenote is: “I haven't been able to spot Xbulla on Google Earth or Maps, although I know it's located near the tiny village of Mina de Oro.” My information places it somewhere else.

    I found six sources of information about Xbuya Ha: Three tourism websites, a property marketing website, a newsletter published by an environmentalist, and an academic journal, which is where your photo of the cenote comes from. A National Geographic team apparently visited the site in 2003, but I was unable to find an article on its website due to the paywall. What is known about that expedition seems to be the tour operators’ accounts, which are retold in some of the sources.

    All the sources indicate that Xbuya Ha lies east of the coastal town of Dzilam de Bravo. The precise location is best described in the academic journal article: “0.5 km seaward from the coast and about 10 km east of Dzilam de Bravo.” The environmentalist newsletter places it “about half an hour east of Dzilam de Bravo, maybe 200 yards/meters from shore and in about two feet of water”.

    There are strong indications that Xbuya Ha is connected to the inland Elepeten cenote:

    • The National Geographic expedition apparently sent divers down Xbuya Ha up to its narrowest point. They then went to the inland cenote, dived again and was able to reach the same narrow opening they observed before.
    • The environmentalist newsletter says Xbuya Ha is connected to “the big cenote (sinkhole) we're about to visit inland.”
    • The map on the property marketing website plots Elepeten cenote in the vicinity of the seaward location of Xbuya Ha. One could assume that it is plotted because of its significance.
    • The tourism websites offer a combined tour that include Xbuya Ha and Elepeten cenote.

    The research lesson here is that it is always worthwhile to have multiple sources, and particularly, a good mix of sources. In this instance, the tourism sources gave vague information, the property marketing source added some vital detail, but the best information came from the academic journal and environmental website. This case also illustrates the problem we have with the commercialisation of information because I suspect the best source would have been the paywalled National Geographic report.


    1. Willem -- Thanks for this remarkable assemblage of information. Nicely done!

      I also like your summary about the value of multiple sources. I often find hints of information in sources that not really intended as reference material (such as vacation site information), but that leads me to more authoritative sources.