Category Archives: Obertraun

Ice stalagmites in Mammuthole, Dachstein Massif. First published in EARTH Magazine.

Caves of Ice: The Next Frontier in Paleoclimatology?

It’s early June in the Austrian Alps. Tourists in shorts sweat their way up a trail from the cable car above Lake Hallstatt. But the summer heat doesn’t stop a group of scientists from pulling on brightly colored jumpsuits over their hiking clothes at the entrance to Mammuthohle, one of the many limestone caves that riddle the Dachstein Massif. Lukas Plan, a geophysicist at the University of Vienna, straps on his headlamp and pauses to warn the crowd of researchers about the cave they are about to enter. It won’t just be chilly inside, he cautions; it will be an Alpine meat locker.

The crowd, part of the fourth international ice cave workshop organized by a network of European geophysicists and glaciologists, is gathered to visit the cave’s year-round ice formations.

Plan turns toward the tunnel in the mountainside and opens the metal door. A rush of wind bursts out. The group prepares to enter, hoping to read the history of the region’s climate in the cave’s ice.

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Illuminating. Some cave ice dates back thousands of years. - Nenad Buzjak

Climate Scientists Shine Light on Cave Ice

EISRIESENWELT, AUSTRIA—Tracing his glove along a chalky layer in a house-size block of ice that lines this cave in the Austrian Alps, Michael Behm can feel all that is left of an ancient warm spell. The ice, likely formed over the decades or centuries as calcium-enriched rainwater trickled deep in to the cave and froze, must have once warmed enough on top to melt and release a few years’ worth of the mineral, the Vienna University of Technology geophysicist explains.

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