An oceanographer has explained the reason for the formation of the “Milk Sea” (牛奶海) — an ocean area off the coast of Yilan County that has become a tourist hotspot because of its milk-colored water.
The Milk Sea near Turtle Island (Gueishan Island, 龜山島) is caused by the combination of seawater and a saltwater hot spring, Lin Yu-shih (林玉詩), an associate professor at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Department of Oceanography, said in an article posted on Facebook by the Oceanographic Society on Tuesday last week.
Researchers found that the Milk Sea contains particular bacteria that efficiently facilitate carbon fixation, a process in which the sulfur from hot spring water reacts with oxygen, forming a special hydrothermal ecosystem, Lin said.
Photo: Chang Yi-chen, Taipei Times
Compared with seawater’s pH of 8, the Milk Sea only has a pH of 6, slightly more than buttermilk, she said, adding that hot spring water in the region can even have a pH as low as 1.5.
“Soaking in the [Milk Sea] for a prolonged period could have an effect similar to a chemical peel,” she added.
Although “sourer,” the Milk Sea has coral, because hot spring water is mixed with seawater as it gradually rises, she said, adding that water below the white-colored surface is actually no different from regular seawater.
The Milk Sea has complex waves and currents that befuddle even fishermen, and an instantaneous flow rate of up to 70cm, so after some time in the water, it is possible for people to inadvertently drift to the Japanese island of Ishigaki, she said.
Tidal vortexes in the area mean the milk-colored water circulates only within a certain range, occasionally creating some beautiful patterns, she said.
In 2000, a research team found a 2m hydrothermal vent on the seafloor of the area that discharged an extremely large quantity of geothermal water, but the vent has since been buried by falling rocks, she said.
Rock falls, landslides, as well as changing tides, currents and hydrothermal vents are factors contributing to the changing boundaries of the Milk Sea as observed every year, she said.
As Turtle Island is an active volcano, people need not worry that the Milk Sea will disappear if more hydrothermal vents in the area are buried by falling rocks, because new vents are being created by the continuous magmatic activity there, she said.
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