Jewel Cave Discoveries

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Jewel Cave Discoveries

Postby DirtDoc » Nov 26, 2015 11:20 am

Within the coiled limestone intestines of Jewel Cave are two newly discovered lakes - - -

Rapid City Journal 11-25-2015

The most important implication of this discovery is the presence of significant water and the possibility of establishing a remote camp in the cave for exploration beyond the limits of endurance for day trips. There are now two established exploration camps in the cave. Jewel is exceedingly dry and water is almost non-existent. These "lakes" are at the far western and then southern explored part of the cave to the west of Hell Canyon, across the canyon from the natural entrance and visitor's center. To get there requires very strenuous travel through tight crawlways, estimated to take 8-10 hours with day packs. Large camping packs present additional difficulties. Further, no reasonable nor approved camping area has yet been located near the lakes.

Dwight Deal ...

Two lakes found amid Jewel Cave that now reaches 180 miles deep

Jewel Cave exploration team member Nate Hughes stands near one of the underwater lakes found in Jewel Cave during a recent exploration trip.

6 hours ago • Mike Anderson Journal staff

They rest in the deepest, darkest place within the coiled limestone intestines of Jewel Cave: two newly discovered lakes that explorers say are crystal clear and blue.

Dan Austin, physical science technician at Jewel Cave, was one of several volunteer cavers with the National Park Service who explored new stretches of the vast subterranean network this fall. Their efforts expanded the known length of what was already one of the longest cave systems in the world from 177 to more than 180 miles and revealed the existence of the two small lakes, dubbed Hourglass Lake and Piso Mojado, or "wet floor" in Spanish.

“It surprised all of us,” Austin said. “We thought we might find water at some point in the future, but we didn’t expect to find it so soon.”

Mike Wiles, chief of Resource Management at Jewel Cave National Monument, was quick to point out that “lake” isn’t technically the correct term for the water bodies. He said the two “lakes” are likely cave passages that descend into the freshwater Madison Aquifer.

“The whole cave was once beneath the water table,” Wiles said. “These are cave passages that continue beneath the water. At least in Jewel, they are so far out with such tight and restricted passages, I don’t think we would ever consider diving into them. It’s just not feasible.”

Wiles said the pristine lakes could become a valuable focus for future hydrological and microbiological studies at Jewel Cave National Monument.

“The lakes are a significant discovery for Jewel Cave,” Wiles said.

He said as exploration continues, additional lakes might also be found in as-yet unexplored passages.

Though Jewel Cave has the occasional puddle of water, it is predominantly dry and dusty, according to Austin. The lakes are the wettest and deepest reaches of Jewel, more than 720 feet down, breaking the old record by 42 feet.

The new passages that lead to the lakes were first found in March 2014, Austin said. Volunteers returned in October and again in November to explore and map out the new sections.

The two separate excursions amounted to at least 160 hours underground in which 6,158 feet of new passages were surveyed. Apart from finding the lakes, the cavers also discovered thousands of tiny filaments clinging to the calcite walls in a new section of cave. The team collected samples of the filaments, which Wiles said have an organic appearance, and sent them to a lab for analysis. Samples were also taken of the water from the lakes.

“We’re just now beginning to see that microbial life in the water in the cave may have been present since the beginning,” Wiles said. “These filaments may be some remnant of what was happening when the cave was formed.”

Wiles, who has more than 7,000 hours logged underground, said cavers never know what to expect when they descend into the dark.

“Most cavers are just interested in finding more cave passages,” he said. “Most of us have this intense curiosity to see what goes where. There’s the thrill of going someplace where no one has gone before. We just let the cave take us.”

The cave took Austin and his fellow volunteers eight hours to traverse, from the elevator to West Camp through thousands of feet of passages south of the Limestone Lunchroom, through Slime Ball Hall, and a section of the cave dubbed the Lost Subway after a Subway sandwich Austin thought had fallen out of his pack.

“When we got back it turned out it was at camp,” he said with a laugh.

Naming new spots and discoveries is usually more of a group effort, Austin said, as was the case with Hourglass Lake. The name comes from the Hourglass Sea on planet Mars. Austin and his fellows thought it fitting, as the lake’s discovery coincided closely with the finding of liquid water on the red planet.

For Austin, who has been exploring Jewel since 1998, the discovery of Hourglass Lake transformed a cave that he sees as his home into a new frontier.

“It was a pretty exciting feeling to stand there and look at something that no one had ever seen in this cave before,” Austin said. “Like you’re a pioneer, like Lewis and Clark.”

Piso Mojado — discovered about 100 feet from Hourglass — represents a new deep point in the cave at 724 feet below the surface.

Wiles knows there’s much more to be found at Jewel Cave. The cavers had to disembark before they could explore more than 300 new passages deep in the honeycombed maze, and barometric pressure readings predict there are at least 1,000 miles of Jewel Cave that have yet to be discovered.

“There are more unexplored leads than there are explored leads,” Wiles said.

The volunteer cavers will return to Jewel Cave for another exploratory expedition in January.

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Re: Jewel Cave Discoveries

Postby BrianFrank » Nov 27, 2015 8:47 pm

The author states
I don’t think we would ever consider diving into them. It’s just not feasible.
I was thinking, if caves like Sistema Huautla and Krubera Cave can be dived, the same could be accomplished in Jewel Cave.

The cavers had to disembark before they could explore more than 300 new passages deep in the honeycombed maze, and barometric pressure readings predict there are at least 1,000 miles of Jewel Cave that have yet to be discovered.
This cave just amazes me. It may be more than 100 years before it's fully explored.
All TAG cavers join A small price for a GREAT resource.
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Re: Jewel Cave Discoveries

Postby DirtDoc » Nov 27, 2015 10:59 pm

Jewel Cave continues to amaze me, too. And I do believe that there will still be lots more cave discovered by future generations of cave explorers. Literally, there is no end in sight! And the wind is as strong at the limits of today's exploration as it was through the initial crawlway at Milk River that we followed in 1959.

Folks are still finding virgin cave in areas where Herb and Jan and I thought we had found EVERYTHING 50 years ago. We were pretty thorough and persistent.

It's a very complicated three dimensional maze with many tight passages, although the crawlways lead to, and connect, some large passages. Sistema Huautla and Krubera Cave are rather different beasts with a whole different set of problems. There is no comparison.

True, you could probably dive the recently found "lake" (which is not really much of a lake and probably does not go anywhere), but it would take a huge effort. You would want to have to be convinced that it would be worth all the hardship designing small enough equipment and dragging it through the many tight passages to get there. It's hard enough to get your own body there. The thought of dragging just one tank makes me tired, sore, and frustrated. But you are right. I'm sure it could be done if sufficiently motivated.

At this point there is no compelling reason to do so. I have not been there myself - this old body would never be able to make it. Knowing the geology and hydrology, it's not clear that it would likely lead you anywhere. The possibility of tight underwater crawlways is also not exciting. The cave tends to close down as you get stratigraphcally deeper. Straight down is not the obvious right way to go.

Much wiser at this stage to continue the exploration of the numerous air-filled passages, following the wind more or less laterally and following the dip of the beds into the unknown. Diving is clearly a last resort, and there is lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots else to do right now that is much more reasonable to access.

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