For some years Hornsby Spring almost stopped but since around 2015 this again is a giant spring of 1st magnitude. Most of its water descends into the Hornsby Spring Cave System soon after.
Map of the site
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Hornsby Spring is situated around 1 km from the Santa Fe River, in a swamp forest. This impressive spring has formed a 48 by 45 m large and up to 10.6 m deep spring pool (2.). The spring vent is located near the base of the underwater limestone ledge, which is situated on the northern side of the spring pool.
Hornsby Spring Cave System
Soon after its emergence, most of the spring water disappears underground again. It cascades through several swallets into the Hornsby Spring Cave System: a cave system that stretches for 5,876 meters and reaches depths of up to 46 meters. This cave system connects with the vent numbered ALA112971 in Treehouse Spring, which is approximately 1 km northwest, in Santa Fe River. At higher water levels, part of the stream flows above ground towards Treehouse Spring.
Fluctuations of the water flow
Hornsby Spring is one of 30 Outstanding Florida Springs. These are significant natural monuments that have individual planning and rules to maintain (six cleaner springs) or to improve (24 degraded springs, including Hornsby Spring) their environmental quality.
Similar to the nearby Treehouse Spring, Hornsby Spring lost much of its former power around 2006 – 2014, when its flow almost stopped. The mean discharge of the spring in a longer time period between 1998 and 2023 was 2 755 liters per second (1.), a bit short of 100 cubic feet or 2 832 l per second – threshold for 1st magnitude springs. But now it is a convincing 1st magnitude spring again: in 2015-2023 its mean discharge was 4 472 l/s!
Such fluctuations were not unique – also in 1998-2002 Hornsby Spring stopped its flow.
Water quality issues
But, in addition to the challenge of water amounts, there is also the challenge of pollution. Unfortunately, the water of Hornsby Spring is polluted with nitrates from agricultural runoff. This has led to algal growth – filamentous algae cover much of the limestone outcrop and create unpleasant algae mats floating in the spring pool. Removal of this pollution will require much effort and time.
Springs are located in a private area. Around them has been created Camp Kilaqua – a recreational area. Earlier the spring was the center of activities, but as it weakened and its pollution decreased its attraction, recreational activities have shifted away from the spring.
Paleoindians lived around the spring – such giant springs were a perfect place for settlement thanks to the abundance of top-quality drinking water (sea water was some 40 m below its present level and water was scarce), as well as food: shellfish, fish and land animals coming to the springs. Hornsby Spring was the first area in Florida where the settlement was radiocarbon dated in 1961. This data testified that people lived next to the spring 9,880 years ago (counting from 1961). Excavations took place earlier – in the early 1950ies.
Powerful natural freshwater springs belong to the most fascinating monuments of nature. Even more exciting is the diversity of unusual springs – mineral springs, hot springs, submarine springs as well as the unusual black smokers. Especially beautiful are such natural rarities as travertine, silica, or salt terraces created by warm and hot springs and, especially, geysers.
The United States of America is one of the largest countries in the world and offers a wide array of diverse attractions: many are unsurpassed in the world. Highlights of the United States are cliffs, canyons, and rock formations, several impressive downtowns of cities with numerous skyscrapers as well as a rich array of geothermal features, and the giant forest of California.
Florida is the tropical paradise of the mainland United States. Over the last century, it has experienced fabulous changes, turning from a forgotten, swampy badland into a densely populated and rich land. Highlights of Florida include the architecture of the late 19th and 20th centuries as well as its giant springs and caves.
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Florida is home to over 1000 natural springs between the sun-soaked beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, which have drawn people to the state for thousands of years. Long before theme parks came to town, the freshwater springs were the top tourist attraction in the state. Join us across the state to explore 40 of the best springs in Florida that you can still visit today.