Tag Archives: stalagmite

6 Surreal Caves of the Earth

You will probably find this weird, but most people have never seen a real cave in their whole lives; still, those who do remain permanently fascinated by this amazing display of natural force. Caves are definitely a wonder of nature themselves, but every once in a while you hear about one that’s so amazing you wouldn’t even believe it’s real. Such is the case with the following caves, which I hope you’ll find at least interesting.

Cave of Crystals, Mexico


via Wikipedia

What more could be said about this cave? Superheroes would bow down in front of these true giants of crystals, some measuring up to 11 meters. Mexico’s Cueva de los Cristales (Cave of Crystals) is definitely a must see if you’re interested in caves, or just in seeing something that’s absolutely unbelievable, if you don’t see it for yourself. It’s without a doubt another proof of what wonderful things can appear when water meets limestone.

via Wikipedia.

It was discovered by two brothers, who named its antechamber the Queen’s Eye. The cave itself measures 290 meters underground, but these huge crystals of gypsum are way more fragile than you would probably believe. Hopefully, people will understand its value and treat it with care, as they should when you’re dealing with such amazing beauties.


Mammoth cave, Kentucky, USA


Image via Wiki Commons.

What the Mammoth cave lacks in “originality”, it makes up in size; it’s the largest cave system in the world, measuring just under 600 km, and it has some amazing features which make it an attraction for a significant number of tourists each year. Its limestone maze is not where you want to be going yourself, as you probably won’t have enough bread crumbs to get you out of there.


Image via Wikipedia.

It’s also a national park, easy to access and with numerous attractions for everybody, from biking and hiking to speology and geology studies. The hypnotic display of stalactites and stalagmites fascinates and dazzles anybody who has the inspiration of visiting this cave in which people have lived since prehistoric times.

Majlis al Jinn Cave, Oman


Image via Wiki Commons.

Located in a remote area of the Selma Plateau in Oman, Majlis al Jinn Cave humbles even the proudest of men. The entrance is made by one of two small pits which are visible from the outside and don’t give out the true dimensions of what awaits the explorer. Because once you go down a bit, you’ll find yourself in a chamber that’s 150 meters tall, and with a floor that’s 300 meters long and 200 meters wide. Even the biggest Egyptian pyramid would easily fit in this chamber. It’s a view that makes people look no bigger than ants, and despite the fact that it’s remote and hard to reach, if you ever get the chance to visit it, you will definitely have an experience that will remain with you, impossible to erase.


Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves, Austria

Image via Wikipedia.

The world’s largest ice cave represents an attraction for everybody who knows how to appreciate the true beauties our planet has to give. Located near Salzburg and stretching almost 40 km, it’s open from May to October for visiting. The tour may be a bit tiring and chilly (it is an ice cave), but you will find it worth it. It includes visiting of the Great Ice Embankment, a huge formation of ice high of over 25 meters, and Hymir’s Castle, inspired from Mythology, and even a “cathedral”, Alexander von Mörk Cathedral, which is the resting place of von Mörk’s ashes.

Waitomo Glowworm Cave, New Zeeland

Image via Flickr

Image via Flickr

It’s famous (as the name says) for its population of glowworms. Arachnocampa luminosa, is unique to New Zealand, and thousands of these unmistakable creatures span their light for visitors both from the country and from outside it. Over your 45-minute guided tour, you have the chance of seeing these creatures spin a nest out of silk from the ceiling and then hang down; larva cover the ceiling sparkling light that resembles that of the stars. The limestone shafts are also amazing.


Zhong Dong cave, China

Another cave that has no amazing geological particularities or such, Zhong Dong cave is amazing by its use; whether you believe it or not, it’s actually a primary school. The teaching process takes place in a huge chamber that resembles a hangar, carved by air and water in millions of years.


Image via Wikipedia.

It started to be used in 1984 and since it has grown considerably, now having 8 teachers and 186 students. Aside from the cave, it’s pretty much just as any other school, with a playing ground and classrooms.



Extracting our planet’s climate record from cave stalagmites

If you’ve ever visited a cave, you probably know the golden rules: Watch you’re head, stay on the track, and keep your grase paws off the formations! Why the last one? Well, because the hands and dirt you have on your hands can impede their growth.


But when you go inside a cave as a researcher… things get a little different – as Stacy Carolin, a PhD student at Georgia Tech found out:

“I was a city girl back then,” she recalls. “It was very muddy and slippery… and also completely pitch black.”

So what does this have to do with groundbreaking paleoclimate research? A lot! A rather unconventional, but growing in both importance and application range is the study of speleothems (stalactites and stalagmites). Using just data from these records, researchers are able to draw fantastic information; in this study, Carolin and her colleagues outline 100,000-year-old rainfall conditions in Borneo, mapped from chemical clues in cave formations there.


This method is especially adequate in the tropics, where other climate proxies, like tree rings and ice cores, are not really available, leaving an empty place in what scientists know about the paleoclimate of the region.

Stalagmites are “the next generation of climate records,” says Larry Edwards, a geoscientist at the University of Minnesota; and of all people, he should know best – it was him who pioneered the groundbreaking isotope dating technique which led to the boom in speleothem studies in the past years.

Another advantage is that they give information much older than trees and ice cores. They’re widespread, appearing anywhere and everywhere there are carbonatic rocks, and they show a much more detailed picture than most other proxies.

“Stalagmites are time capsules of climate signals from thousands of years in the past,” said Stacy “We have instrumental records of climate only for the past 100 years or so, and if we want to look deeper into the past, we have to find records like these that locked in climate signals we can extract today.”


speleothemes2Climate scientists are especially interested in learning more about abrupt climate changes because they indicate that the climate system may have “tipping points.” This information could lead to better climatic prediction models.

“As a society, we haven’t really thought enough about the fact that we are moving Earth’s climate system toward a new state very quickly,” said Cobb. “It’s important to remember that the climate system has important nonlinearities that are most evident in these abrupt climate events. Ultimately, we’d like to be able to reproduce the global signatures of these abrupt climate events with numerical models of the climate system, and investigate the physics that drive such events.”

But for Stacy, the most important thing is understanding that the Earth hasn’t always been as we see it today. As a matter of fact, it was way different.

“You have to be impressed with the scope of what you are studying, and recognize that the state our climate is in today is incredibly different from Earth’s climate during the last Ice Age,” she said. “As we consider how humans may be affecting climate, dissecting what was going on tens of thousands of years ago in all regions of the globe can help scientists better predict how the Earth will respond to modern climate forcings.”


Cave Records Provide Clues To Climate Change



Basic paleoclimatology and one a little more

There have been many climatic shifts throughout the geologic period of our time. The abrupt climate change events that occurred thousands of years ago are very important to us because they took place closer to this day and so there is a greater chance of repeatability. We must understand that in order to prevent it from happening again or be ready should it happen again.

So paleoclimatologists analyze glaciers and the icy plains trying to find clues about what happened and the factors that made it happen. But Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Kim Cobb and graduate student Jud Partin did something more creative than that: they went underground.

They claim that inside the caves of the tropical Pacific island of Borneo are some of the keys to understanding how the Earth’s climate suddenly changed – several times – over the last 25,000 years. They do that by studying the pilar-like rock formations that stem from the ground in caves. Those are called stalagmites. They are formed due to the dripping of mineralized solutions and the deposition of calcium carbonate so it makes sense that they hold clues.

“These stalagmites are, in essence, tropical ice cores forming over thousands of years,” said Partin. “Each layer of the rock contains important chemical traces that help us determine what was going on in the climate thousands of years ago, much like the ice cores drilled from Greenland or Antarctica.”. The tropical Pacific plays a very important role in the climate variations around the globe. Just look at Pacific’s El Nino and the numerous weather patterns it influences. But it is harder to say what role it played those years ago.

Partin and Cobb cut open each stalagmite and took 1,300 measurements of their chemical content to determine the relative moisture of the climate at various periods in history starting from the oldest layers at the bottom to the present at the top.

“Currently our knowledge of how these dramatic climate changes occurred comes from just a few sites,” said Cobb. “As more studies are done from caves around the world, hopefully we’ll be able to piece together a more complete picture of these changes. Understanding how the dominoes fell is very important to our understanding of our current warming trend.”. “In addition, the Borneo records indicate that the tropical Pacific began to get wetter before the North Atlantic recovered from the Heinrich 1 event 14,000 years ago. Perhaps the tropical Pacific is again driving that trend,” said Partin.

Their results are published in the 2007 issue of the journal Nature and they show great promise.