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"Hell is a unique formation which is characterized by jagged, spongy pinnacles of black-covered limestone. This phytokarst formation is produced when attacking filamentous algae interact with the Ironshore Formation limestone present at this location."
"Phytokarst is a distinctive landform resulting from a curious type of biologic erosion. Filamentous algae bore their way into limestone to produce black-coated, jagged pinnacles marked by delicate, lacy dissection that lacks any gravitational orientation. Ordinary rainfall-produced karst and littoral karst are characterized by flat-bottomed pans and vertically oriented flutes, thus differing from phytokarst. Algae attack by dissolving calcite preferentially to dolomite."
"The ironshore karst is a special type, both in terms of its texture and origin. First, texture it is a black, random sponge work of pits, jagged ridges and pointed pinnacles. It is developed in a narrow strip just above the tide line on ancient limestone rocks. If you break off a piece, you will see that the black color is present near the surface and it grades to gray inside. Second, origin it is being dissolved largely by algae, bacteria and fungi so it is often called "biokarst". These tiny (microscopic) organisms bore into the rock and dissolve the calcite crystals. They are most dense within a centimeter or so at the surface, causing the black color. Why this results in the characteristic macro-texture is not fully understood, but you always see the two elements together so they must be linked somehow. It is clear that proximity to the marine environment is key. Maybe the splash, spray and mist from the waves breaking provide just enough moisture to sustain the algae.
So, when you travel around the Caribbean, look at the rocky shoreline, if it is limestone, biokarst may be well developed. The most famous occurrence is at a place called Hell on Grand Cayman."
May 30th, 2016
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