Dye Trace

Thin white beams from our head lamps dance around the platform surrounding Silver Spring as we attempt to pull on our wetsuits in the dark. Stars are still bright in the clear skies as a team of researchers emerges from downstream and docks the boat in the spring basin. Some of them have slept for an hour, maybe two. We jump into the crisp water and I am immediately awake -- either because of the cool water seeping through my wetsuit zipper or my suddenly hyper-alert state as I swim through eelgrass while scanning for sleepy gators who may be waiting for a morning snack. The scientists lower a blue hose into the spring and a plume of orange dye erupts as the sun begins to rise. Graduate student Nathan Reaver, one of the almost-sleepless scientists and leader of the study, dives into the cloud of dye (called "Rhodamine WT"). In less than a minute, the entire basin takes on an orange hue. Reaver and about a half dozen other graduate students, scientific divers, volunteers, and his fellow lab-mates in Dr. David Kaplan’s Watershed Ecology Lab at the University of Florida have a long day ahead of them -- they will follow and measure the dye as it flows downstream. This work can help us better understand how water moves and mixes after it emerges from the aquifer, which supplies drinking water to more than 90% of Florida's population.