Flowing water contains tiny amounts of the mineral calcite, and when deposited, beautiful displays of stalactites and stalagmites are formed in rings much like tree rings. During this process other chemicals are deposited, too. These rings are a scientific travel back in time – they record the composition of the earth’s atmosphere and help scientists understand our atmosphere at any given time in our earth’s history, and how it has changed over time.
Caves contain tiny insects that have evolved over thousands of generations to successfully live in the pitch-black cave environment. Even the smallest changes in our world can have drastic consequences on these highly adapted populations. Monitoring these bugs over time helps scientists track how we humans are impacting our world.
In cave-rich areas, industrial spills and pollution move into the ground very quickly posing a threat to water sources. Chemicals can move multiple miles per day through caves giving spill responders little time to clean up.
Cave cancer cure?
In sulfur-rich caves like New Mexico’s Lechuguilla Cave, there are very unique microorganisms that feed on the sulfur. Scientists hope that studying these particular organisms will lead to breakthroughs in cancer research.