On a recent visit to Crystal Ice Cave in Idaho, climate and cave researchers had to wade through frigid, knee-deep water to reach the ice formations that give the cave its name. Cavers are good-humored about the hardships of underground exploration, but this water was chilling for more than one reason: it was carrying away some of the very clues they had come to study. Continue reading When Evidence Melts Away
A yellow splash of light from Bogdan Onac’s headlamp bounces around the dripping orange walls of a cave like a frenetic firefly. At the other end of the beam, the University of South Florida paleoclimatologist explains that the walls of this cave, on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, have collected a bathtub ring of minerals as brackish water washes in and out. “Majorca is like a Gruyère,” Onac says, its underlying limestone filled with holes just like the cheese. Continue reading Cave detective hunts for clues to past sea level
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.
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.