Significance of Hot Springs

Dr. Arti Sharma and
Mandeep Kour
Hot springs are the places where warm or hot water comes out from Earth and contains a lot of dissolved solids, minerals and everything that is necessary for creation of life. The distinguishing feature of these specialized habitats are, their elevated temperature, depressed dissolved oxygen level and high radioactivity. Water issuing from hot springs is heated by geothermal heat (i.e. from Earth’s interior) or by coming in contact with magma (i.e. the hot water is generated by heat produced from Earth’s mantle). Hot water springs are found in many parts of the world like China, Russia, India, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Iceland, etc. In India, there are approximately 400 geothermal springs found either solitary or in groups. The temperature of Indian hot springs ranges from 300 – 1000 and majority of them are non-volcanic in origin.
Temperature is one of the most important factors in hot springs that governs species abundance. Chemical composition of hot springs varies and many of which have significant amount of hydrogen sulphide while some acid springs are rich in ferrous ion. Most of the hot springs are usually alkaline with pH above 7 and this alkalinity is primarily the result of calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium ions. Since heated water can hold more dissolved solids and therefore they often have a very high mineral content, containing everything from calcium to lithium and even radium based on geographical site and location.
The biological characteristics of thermal spring depends on several factors of which temperature seems to be more potent one that support the survival of specific flora and fauna which are called as thermophilic organisms. Fauna mainly comprises of phytoplankton, zooplankton and microorganisms. The microorganisms residing in these geothermal areas have attracted great attention because of presence of commercially important thermostable enzyme in them.
Since ancient times, hot springs have been used for medicinal purposes. There has been a long history of people bathing in hot springs to treat skin diseases, stomach and rheumatic disorders. Many reports have shown that water of hot springs has therapeutic effects for treating number of diseases. Balneology, the practice of treating and preventing diseases through the use of natural mineral hot spring water is gaining popularity nowadays. Soaking in mineral water mineral water has numerous benefits like:
Improves Circulation: They are thought to help with blood circulation, hypertension, nervous imbalances and atherosclerosis.
Treat Skin Infection: Sulphur is a mineral present in every cell of our body and is used to make collagen, which keeps our skin smooth and healthy. Hot springs are a rich source of sulphur and its healing benefits include treating skin irritations and infections such as rashes and eczema. Sulphur rich hot springs are also thought to treat dry scalp, arthritic pain and internal problems such as menopausal symptoms and digestive disorders.
Reduce Stress: Helps to relax our body, which benefits many aspects of our health, including sleeping patterns and nutrient assimilation. The relaxation promoted by the heat and buoyancy of hot springs also helps to increase the range of motion of our muscles and joints, making the soaking beneficial for individuals recovering from trauma or suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Detoxify: Bathing repeatedly in hot springs can help tone our autonomic nervous system and normalize our endocrine system, as well as detoxify our body through sweating.
Boost Immune System: Some people believe that iron content in hot springs, along with other trace minerals, help to build our body’s immune system, making it stronger.
Inhaling mineral water vapours can be effective in treatment for asthma, sinus problem, allergies and other respiratory problems, clearing mucus from the lungs and facilitating breathing. Chlorides present in hot springs helps to maintain electrolyte balance and pH of body fluids and are essential for production of HCl in stomach that aids in protein digestion. Phosphates are essential for proper utilization of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and sodium. In combination with calcium it aids in hair growth and helps to counteract fatigue. Magnesium presents in hot springs help to protect against cardiovascular diseases and lower blood pressure.
In the state of J&K, geothermal springs are found in Himalayan foothills, the Kashmir valley and Ladakh. The thermal discharge from Himalayan foothills and Kashmir valley ranges from 400- 650 while in Ladakh, the thermal discharge has been recorded to 870 (Rao et al). The thermal discharge at Tattapani of Kalakote has average temperature of 450, with acidic to neutral pH with very low dissolved oxygen. The hot spring of Kalakote has gained importance since ages and is used for bathing by large number of local people as well as people from other regions.
Keeping in view the uniqueness of hot water springs, a lot of survey needs to be done to explore more and more hot springs of the area as well as of the whole state. So that majority of people will be benefitted by their therapeutic uses.