When Ernie Gladstone approached Hotspring Island in the wake of the big earthquake off Haida Gwaii this week, he got a queasy feeling in his stomach.
Usually on a fall day, thick billows of mist rise from a series of hot water pools that lie along the rocky shore, just above the cold waters of Juan Perez Sound, off British Columbia’s northwest coast.
But no more. “I’m from Haida Gwaii,” said the field superintendent of Gwaii Haanas National Park, “and I’ve bathed in those pools probably every year for the past 30 years and, yeah, it was very disturbing … not seeing the steam rising out of the water.”
When he got ashore, he was shocked to see the fabled and historic pools, long regarded as one of the most beautiful features of Haida Gwaii, had run out of steam and hot water. He said the 7.7 earthquake, which rattled much of B.C. last Saturday without causing any damage to human developments, has disrupted the flow of thermal water that bubbled to the surface on the island for centuries.
“The pools are completely dry. There is no sign of any water at the source. So there’s three or four pools there and, yeah, completely dry,” Mr. Gladstone said Thursday. “The rocks are cold to touch.”
Glenn Woodsworth, an emeritus research scientist with the Geological Survey of Canada and author of Hot Springs of Western Canada, said there is a chance hot water could start to flow again.
“Clearly something’s disrupted the plumbing system. Whether it will restore itself remains to be seen,” he said. “Some hot springs occasionally dry up after these things, then start up again … but whether it will restore itself or not, or whether it’s finished, or whether the hot water will start coming up under the [sea] water there, that all remains to be seen.”
Hotspring Island, known to the Haida as Gandll K’in Gwaayaay, or Hot Water Island, was mentioned in journals as early as 1791, when Joseph Ingraham, a U.S. trader, named the location Smoky Bay because of the steam rising on the shoreline.
But the island was known for its hot bathing waters long before that, says Haida elder Diane Brown. “Oh gee, you know, historically there are lots of stories of how all the hunters and fishermen stopped there,” she said. “And before contact there was a shaman lived there.”
Ms. Brown said the island was famous for its “healing waters,” and for the beauty of its setting, where you could lie in rock-walled pools, listening to the surf break below.
“So it’s a sad, sad day for us. We always called it the jewel of Gwaii Hanaas,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s just a special place, a very spiritual area … and I am hoping it might somehow come back.”
Ms. Brown said her father told her that in 1948 an earthquake shook the islands and a pool that was on a grassy knoll above where the recent pools were soon ran dry.
She said that pool was hot enough to cook an octopus in, and the pools closer to the water that she got to know as a young girl emerged later and weren’t nearly as hot.
Mr. Woodsworth said the hot springs at Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Shaw’s Hot Springs near Carson City, Nev., were both disrupted by an earthquake in 1887, and they eventually recovered. But there are also “fossil hot springs” in B.C. where springs dried up long ago, never to restart.
Could the springs be restored by drilling? “I would think it’s not feasible,” Mr. Woodsworth said. “The upshot is that we don't know where on the plumbing system the water flow is interrupted: close to the spring, shallow or deep, or what? So where would one drill?”