Saturday, November 15, 2008

Amazing Caves: The World Beneath the World!!!!

If you are stretched and squeezed by everyday life, then you might be in perfect shape to explore caves.

Enter a narrow natural passageway that may lead to simply mind-boggling underground world. Caves may lurk right under your feet: a fascinating and unexpected environment, which is often known only to spelunkers and dedicated Gollum-seekers.

Gruta do Lago Azul, Bonito, Brazil. (photo by

"Symphony of Stones" (how aptly named) -

Garni caves in Armenia. (photo by eco culture)

Fairyland Cave Formations

Caves are a fairyland of delight, from the burning hot enclaves to the glacial ice mazes. Thousands of years of dripping water, eroding stone and budding minerals create a silent world of mystery and beauty... Graceful arches, giant crystals... silent but for the sound of water dripping and bubbling through.

A "Wishing Well" at Luray Caverns in Virginia (photo by Declan McCullagh)

The most common type of caves form when slightly acidic rainwater trickles into the crevices of limestone and gradually widens the cracks as it dissolves the stone. Centuries of water, supersaturated with minerals, dripping from cave roofs cause stalagmites and stalactites to form (see here).

(image via)
One thing to keep in mind during cave exploration: though these structures are made of minerals, they are generally extremely thin and fragile, many of them are quite rare, and can be damaged or destroyed by touch alone. Calcite (the mineral which forms many cave structures), for example, is soft enough to be scratched by a fingernail.

Some of the cave and rock formations:

- Flowstone (also known as a Bacon formation)
- Cave Pearls
- Soda Straws
- Helictites
- Anthodites (or Aragonite)
- Bottlebrush formation

(image credit: Dave Bunnell)

Probably the most comprehensive cave-exploration site on the net is that of Dave Bunnell... You can spend hours there, wandering around pages, cataloging whimsical

underground structures, oozing rock and dripping stone.

(Gruta do Mimoso, Brazil)

Largest Cave Systems

We mentioned the Jeita Grotto - the largest cave system in the Middle East- in our recent Lebanon article. The longest known stalactite in the world is found there at 8.2 meters long.

- The deepest known cave is Voronya Cave in Abkhazia, Georgia and has been explored to a depth of 2191 meters.

- The longest continuous cave system yet explored is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, covering 591 kilometers.

Let's have a short world tour of the most interesting caves, why don't we? We'll start with North America

Already mentioned Luray Caverns in Virginia are full of celebrated speleothems formations, calcite crystals of abnormal shapes - all formed when the chambers were completely filled with water, highly charged with acid. The acid began to eat away the softer material, resulting in ornate pinnacles and arches...

(image credit: Alejocrux)

No comments: