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    Sunday, January 13, 2008



    Swimmers and Divers at a cenote

    Cenotes - photos of underwater views




    [edited for length - excerpts from]

    A cenote (pronounced in Mexican Spanish [seˈnoˌte] and in English [səˈnəʊˌteɪ], plural: cenotes; from Yucatec Maya dzonot) is a type sinkhole containing groundwater typically found in the Yucatán Peninsula and some nearby Caribbean islands. The term is derived from a word used by the low-land Maya to refer to any location where groundwater is accessible.

    Definition and description

    Cenotes are surface connections to subterranean water bodies [1]. While the most well-known cenotes are large open water pools measuring tens of metres in diameter, such as those at Chichén Itzá, the greatest number of cenotes are smaller sheltered sites and do not necessarily have any surface exposed water. The term cenote has also been used to describe similar karst features in other countries such as Cuba and Australia, in addition to the more generic term of sinkholes.

    Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water infiltrating slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter. The groundwater flow rate within a cenote may be very slow at velocities ranging from 1 to 1000 meters per year. In many cases, cenotes are areas where sections of cave roof have collapsed revealing an underlying cave system and the water flow rates here may be much faster: up to 10,000 meters per day[2]. Cenotes around the world attract cave divers who have documented extensive flooded cave systems through them, some of which have been explored for lengths of 100 kilometers or more.

    Geology and hydrology

    Cenote in Quintana Roo
    Cenote in Quintana Roo


    Cenotes are formed by dissolution of rock which creates a subsurface void, which may or may not be linked to an active cave system, and the subsequent structural collapse of the rock ceiling above the void. The rock that falls into the water below will then be slowly removed by further dissolution, creating space for more collapse blocks. The rate of collapse increases during periods when the water table is below the ceiling of the void, since the rock ceiling is no longer buoyantly supported by the water in the void. Cenotes may be fully collapsed creating an open water pool, or partially collapsed with some portion of a rock overhang above the water. The stereotypical cenotes often resemble small circular ponds, measuring some tens of meters in diameter with sheer drops at the edges. Most cenotes however require some degree of stooping if not crawling to access the water.


    Types of cenotes

    In 1936, a simple morphometry based classification system for cenotes was presented [3]. Cenotes-cántaro (Jug, or Pit cenotes) are those with a surface connection narrower than the diameter of the water body; Cenotes-cilíndricos (Cylinder cenotes) are those with strictly vertical walls; Cenotes-aguadas (Basin cenotes) are those with shallow water basins; and grutas (Cave cenotes) are those having a horizontal entrance with dry sections. [...]

    Cenotes and the Maya

    Cenotes have long been the principal sources of water in much of the Yucatán Peninsula. The region has almost no rivers and only a few lakes, often marshy. Cenotes are widely distributed, and supply better-quality water year-round. Major Maya settlements required access to adequate water supplies, and therefore cities, including the famous Chichén Itzá, were built around these natural wells. Some cenotes like the Cenote of Sacrifice in Chichén Itzá played an important role in Maya rites. Believing that these pools were gateways to the other world, the Maya sometimes threw valuable items into them. The discovery of golden sacrificial artifacts in some cenotes led to the archaeological exploration of most cenotes in the first part of the 20th century. Edward Herbert Thompson, an American diplomat who had bought the Chichén Itzá site, began dredging the Sacred Cenote there in 1904. He discovered human skeletons and sacrificial objects confirming a local legend, the Cult of the Cenote, involving human sacrifice to the rain gods (Chaacs) by ritual casting of victims and objects into the cenote.


    Notable cenotes

    Mexico, Yucatan Peninsula

    Mexico, Central and Northern region

    United States


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