Halcyon hot springs vanish after B.C. quake

Halcyon hot springs vanish after B.C. quake by Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press, November 1, 2012, Travel.ca
Mother Nature has apparently turned off the taps for a series of idyllic hot springs on a remote west coast B.C. island following Saturday’s 7.7 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks. Four naturally-sourced pools on the tiny Hot Springs Island in Gwaii Haanas National Park, which have provided spiritual and medicinal comforts to locals and tourists for generations, have completely run dry. “They were wonderful, you would sit up above the cliff and watch the whales frolicking in the distance while getting nice and warm in the pool,” said Barb Rowsell, a tour guide with Anvil Cove Charters.

“Now there’s no water, gone,” she said, adding perhaps it’s a warning nudge from the earth. “‘Hey you guys — behave yourselves a bit better. I’m going to take away some of your goodies.”

The springs, part of a Haida Heritage Site, have been used for decades by the local First Nations people to cook and gather seafood, and also because they are considered to offer healing properties. They were also known to alleviate the aches and pains of sailors and kayakers, sea-faring tourists and campers from the region, as well as commercial fishermen. The pools were contained in rough-hewn, manmade stone walls and varied in size, with the smallest soaker just over two metres wide and the largest more than seven metres. Waders would find the water reached their waist. Only 12 people are permitted on the island at a time. Parks Supt. Ernie Gladstone took the three-hour zodiac boat journey to the island on Wednesday to investigate rumours the beloved wells had run dry. “It was quite disturbing going ashore,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “Normally when you approach the island you can see steam rising out of the pools, or rising out of the overflows or even some of the thermal meadows. But that was no longer visible.”

The epicentre of the main earthquake to rock the region on Saturday was about 30 to 40 kilometres from the island, Gladstone said. One aftershock, which had a magnitude between four and five, was less than one kilometre away. “Right now we’re assuming this is a result of the earthquake activity over the weekend and subsequent aftershocks,” he said.

Members from the Canadian Geological Survey are now trying to determine more precisely why the springs have stopped flowing, how the earthquake may have been involved, and whether the plug is permanent. Seismologist Michael Bostock said it’s very likely there was a change in the stress patterns underlying the region when the quake occurred, and that impacts how fluids migrate through the earth’s crust. Fractures that were previously opened may have closed, and new cracks may have formed, he said. “Certain pathways are no longer accessible by the water, and the earthquake may have damage and created other pathways through which is might have flown,” said the earth and ocean sciences professor at the University of B.C. He said it is possible the springs could return. “There are a lot of question marks.”

Rowsell said her clients considered the naturally-beautiful springs to be among the best in the world. “They are hot-springs connoisseurs and they say these are No. 1 that they’ve ever found,” she said. “It’s going to be sorely missed.” [Emphasis added]

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