Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crystal Cave to be Flooded

Giant crystals dwarf researchers in the Crystal Cave. Photo via veoverde

How spectacular is this? What a place of beauty and wonderment! Another planet? The inside of an iceberg? This is Mexico’s Cave of Crystals.

This natural wonder was discovered in 2000 when silver miners broke through a wall in a mineshaft. This cave has crystals that can measure 30 feet in length – the largest in the world.

Unfortunately, only a few geologists have been able to visit this amazing site so far; and, it seems that only a handful more will be able to view this marvel before it is filled water.

One of the biggest reasons it is so hard to investigate is the heat and humidity inside the cave.

Recently, Iain Stewart, a professor from the University of Plymouth, Great Britain, led a team from the BBC into the Crystal Cave to show them the amazing formations attached to the mines of Naica in northern Mexico. The conditions in the cave make extended exploration of the cave impossible without special gear.

According to the BBC, the temperature reaches 50°C (122°F) with humidity at 100 percent. Prof. Stewart explains, “The combination means that when you inhale air, the surface of your lungs is actually the surface cooler than the air is. This means that the fluids begin to condense into the lungs - and this is not good news.” Actually, this sounds like drowning without water to me.

To tolerate the challenging conditions in the cave, explorers wear special refrigerant suites which contain a breathing system.

Prof. Stewart realizes how fortunate he is to have had the chance to see the Crystal Cave. The owners of the silver mine have no intention of preserving the cave for others to see for generations to come. He says, “They do not earn any money (from the cave), and sooner or later, when the financial situation of the mines change, will be closed. The water pumps will be removed and the cave will be flooded, and the crystals, again, will be out of our reach.”

Prof. Stewart and other geologists like him are hopeful that there will be similar discoveries to replace this one; and, there seems to be geological indications that more caves may lay waiting to be discovered.

Prof. Stewart says, “To begin with, the geology around the cave suggests that there may be more crystal caves in the region around Naica. But, more broadly, the crust of the Earth must have more wonders like this.”

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