Sour Cave: life in streams of sulfur
The stream in Sour Cave is dilute hydrogen sulfide, but organisms have managed to survive in it as well. In the south of Mexico, in the tropical hills with their astonishing beauty and diversity of plants and great numbers of animal life, there is a place whose existence proves that living organisms are quite capable of surviving in conditions that are not only unnatural for organic forms, but even extremely dangerous for them.
We are talking about Sour Cave (local name – the Cave of the Sanctified Spirit), saturated with murderous hydrogen sulfide. It got its second name from certain sections of the labyrinth, the upper part of which has crevices, from which the rays of sunlight penetrate. The individual streams of rays create a very special sense of spirituality and the patronage of some inexplicable, unearthly force.
Source of food in years of scarcity Back in ancient times, Sour Cave played an important role in the lives of the Indians who lived near it. Religious ceremonies were held near its entrance. The Indians believed that the gods lived in the cave and could solve many of the tribe’s problems, chief among them a lack of food and water. To this end, the gods were asked for ritual offerings. The cave was used for fishing when the food supply from the previous harvest was exhausted and the time of the new harvest had not yet arrived. Before each fishing trip, during a special ritual ceremony, shamans asked the guardian gods of the cave (named Grandfather and Grandmother) to let people use their gifts. The fishing itself took place a hundred meters from the entrance upstream of the underground stream in the traditional Central American method: crushed roots of barberry vines and lime were put into the water, which displaced oxygen from the water and made the fish rise to the surface, while making it sluggish because of the lack of oxygen. Held throughout prehistoric and historical times, the ceremony was abandoned only in the mid-1940s, but it was revived in 1987 by local resident Jose Vasquez, and now the ritual fishing takes place every spring. To reduce the harmful effects of hydrogen sulfide, local tribesmen do not penetrate deep into the cave and try to leave the underground as quickly as possible. Fishing is also highlighted by candlelight. After the catch is dried to get rid of the sulfur taste.
Where does the hydrogen sulfide come from? Scientists estimate that the cave is several thousand years old, which means that it is relatively young compared to most caves on Earth. The study of the Cave of Sanctified Spirit began by Mexican scientists at the end of the twentieth century. During its study it was found that most of the cave labyrinth is filled with hydrogen sulfide, and it is not safe to enter the underground without a gas mask. Already approaching the entrance hole of Kislaya, a specific smell of poisonous gas can be clearly felt. However, its concentration is not the same in all parts of the cave. In the areas of clefts, the air is fresh enough and several species of bats live quite comfortably in such places. In addition, this cave, which seems not adapted for life, is home to many insects, and in the murky stream flowing through the bottom of Kislaya, you can see several species of small fish, relatives of aquarium guppies and mollinetsia. Kislaya is unique in that it was formed in an amazing way. There are only two known similar caves in the world. The Mexican underground labyrinth was eaten into the limestone by sulfuric acid, which occurs as a byproduct of the oxidation of the hydrogen sulfide released with the water that enters the cave after the rains. The walls of Kislaya are covered with mucus of various shades. Stodgy stalactites hang from the ceiling, and sulfuric acid drips from them, the concentration of which is enough to dissolve limestone, resulting in the formation of gypsum. From time to time gypsum formations collapse from the walls and ceiling, revealing new layers of limestone that can oxidize again. Thus, the cave becomes deeper and more voluminous. At the moment, in the course of ongoing research, scientists have still not figured out where hydrogen sulfide comes from in the cave. There are several unproven assumptions, among which are the proximity of an oil field or the influence of an active volcano.
Adapted to hellish conditions Similar to the Mexican cave with hydrogen sulfide Movile is located in Romania. It was discovered by chance in 1986 during construction work. It looks like an ordinary cave, but experts found out that it has a unique ecosystem. More than 30 new species of animals, not previously known to science, were found in its passages. These are mainly scorpions, leeches, worms, millipedes and other invertebrates. 5 million years ago the organisms living in the Movila Cave were cut off from the outside world. Over this long period of time small animals, fungi and other microorganisms adapted to survive without light. Most invertebrates developed antennae to orientate themselves in space and pick up vibrations in the air. The isolation of the cave ecosystem influenced the development and lifestyle of organisms. They learned to feed, reproduce, etc. in new ways. Understanding the peculiarity and biological importance of the Movile Cave for the scientific world, the local authorities decided to fence it off from the external environment. To preserve the ecosystem of the cave as nature has created it, scientists have made an airtight passage, and scientific research is allowed to small groups (not more than 3 people) in special protective suits.
Prepared by Anna Popenko, according to Snovadoma.ru, Wildwildworld.net.ua
Sour Cave of the Consecrated Spirit Mexico, photo and description
(Cave of the Sanctified Spirit)
A two-kilometer long labyrinth in Cretaceous limestone located in southern Mexico in the state of Tabasco.
Some parts of the labyrinth are sanctified by the sun’s rays through the crevices, which may be why the locals have called this cave a place of “Sanctified Spirit”. At the entrance to the labyrinth they have long held religious rituals, for example, in bad harvest years they ask the cave gods permission to catch small fish in the underground stream.
Mexican scientists have been exploring the cave since 1987, and they have found that almost the entire labyrinth is filled with hydrogen sulfide, and it is impossible to enter most of the tunnels without a gas mask. But in the rooms where the air was sufficiently ventilated by holes in the ceiling, settled bats.
Scientists have counted 6 species of these bats, and in addition to them a large number of mites and worms. And from the large number of larvae of midges, the noise they create an impression as an unstoppable rumble or loud song of cicadas. How fish survive in such nightmarish conditions in the creek is unclear, but the water is full of relatives known aquarists fish guppies and mollinsia.
In general, the presence of life in the cave seems unbelievable, especially for explorers who penetrate the cave with strict precautions and looking at fish and mice through the glass of a gas mask. In the cave, sulfuric acid drips from the ceiling (concentrations like electrolyte in electric batteries), stone walls are covered with multicolored slime, gelatinous stalactites of the same terrible slime (consisting of dozens of bacteria species with their secretions glued by gypsum crystals) hang from the ceiling.
Hydrogen sulfide seeps from the ground, which is oxidized in the water dripping from the ceiling, the resulting acid dissolves the limestone, the reaction creates less durable gypsum, which by collapsing allows the acid to dissolve more and more layers of limestone. In fact, the whole cave owes its birth to sulfuric acid, a hole in the limestone.
One of the mysteries of the cave is not clear where hydrogen sulfide comes from. Two possible answers: either oil deposits (but they are 60 km to the north), or from the active volcano El-Chichon (but it is 50 km to the north). [NIJ 1999, No.4, p.1920]. In the world are known only 2 more similar caves Lechuguilla cave in the USA [“NIJ” 1997, № 6] and recently opened completely flooded cave Movile in Romania. But they are less interesting and less accessible for research…
A natural underground formation located on the border of Kenya and Uganda. In 1987, Peter Cardinal, a Danish boy, out of curiosity, descended into a dungeon of which there were dark legends.
A week later he was already dying in a local hospital. Frenchman Charles Monet, who had also visited the cave, also died of terrible internal bleeding. It was later found out that they had been infected by a virus still unknown to science.
Scientists have suggested that the Kitum Cave, where the ancestors of the apes lived many millions of years ago, is a kind of reactor, affecting new deadly species of viruses. Among experts there is suspicion that AIDS also came into the world from these very places.
KUNGURA CAVE (Ice Cave)
Natural underground formation with ice drifts (stalactites and stalagmites), tourist attraction of the town of Kungur in Perm region. The unprecedented beauty of illuminated formations of ice and the relative accessibility of the cave have made it a popular tourist attraction.
* * * * Travel to the Kungur Cave: By any train on the “Perm-Sverdlovsk” branch (including “Moscow-Vladivostok”) or by electric train “Perm-Kungur” from Perm; then from the railway station take bus number 9 to the terminus.
There is a fee to enter the cave. There is a hotel near the entrance to the cave. It is recommended to visit the cave in late spring, when the ice stalactites reach their maximum size.
A natural underground formation in the United States, one of the mysteries of which is the abnormally high hydrogen sulfide content. Only 3 such caves are known in the world: the Sour Cave (the Cave of the Sanctified Spirit) [“HJ” 1999, No. 4, p. 1920] and the recently discovered and fully flooded Movile Cave in Romania. Lechuguilla Cave is difficult to access for research. [NIJ 1997, No. 6].
An amazing underground formation of natural origin, in which the research in 1996 for the first time revealed a closed ecosystem, not connected with the general ecosystem of the Earth. An abnormally high content of hydrogen sulfide was found in this underground cave. Only 3 such caves are known in the world, including Sour Cave (Cave of the Sanctified Spirit) [“NIJ” 1999, No. 4, p.1920] in Mexico and Lechuguilla in the USA.
Lechuguilla Cave is difficult to study. The cave itself was discovered by chance during construction work in 1986 near the Black Sea coast in Transylvania, Romania. The first surveys of the cave by biologists discovered more than 30 new species of flora and fauna from blind spiders, barnacles, scorpions to plants that exist without light.
The work of Dr. Serban SARBU of the American University of Cincinnati has found that plants and animals have lived in a completely isolated room for 5 million years and during this time have fully adapted to the conditions of the dark cave.
In fact, it can be stated that there are only two completely enclosed ecosystems on our planet: the planetary one and the cave one in Movila. The study of the cave’s mysteries is still going on, as biologists figuratively put it, Gathering information about Movil is as interesting as studying the peculiarities of life on other planets.
A system of caves near Moscow, about 7 km long, on the right bank of the Rozhaika River, a tributary of the Pakhra River. Located about 8 km south-southwest of the Syanskie caves on the river Pakhra, near Domodedovo airport, right under the houses of local residents and vacationers. Compared to other caves near Moscow, the Nikita caves are quite muddy, the entrance down is clogged with mud from time to time, but speleology enthusiasts periodically dig out the entrances.
* To get to the caves in Nikitsky: take a train from Moscow Paveletsky railway station (or from the Moscow metro station “Varshavskaya” or “Nagatinskaya” to the Domodedovskaya metro station; then take a bus № 21 to the village Nikitsky or go on foot 6 km to the west and then to the south passing by the Konstantinovo state farm. Then from the bus stop walk northwards for 10 minutes, cross the bridge, walk along the river along the right bank upstream for 5 minutes to 2 springs, then go uphill for 30 m to the central entrance.
Additional entrances are located along the river on the right and left in tens and hundreds of meters from the central entrance, you can find them after asking the locals or methodically examine the holes near the paths leading up from the river. It is obligatory to be in the caves with a guide! Follow all safety precautions!
THE CAVE “DRAGON’S NOSTRILS” (Namibian)
A karst cave with a record-setting underground lake found inside. The unusual name was given to the cave by local Namibian peasants because warm air continuously escaped from it. In the dolomite strata at a depth of 59 meters the expedition speleologists discovered a lake with an area of 1.9 hectares by 0.1 hectares more than Lost Lake in the U.S. state of Tennessee, which has been considered the largest underground lake in the world.
The greatest depth of the newly discovered lake is 200 meters. Its water is exceptionally clear, with a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius and a very favorable for human health salt ratio.
THE CAVE “DRAGON’S NOSTRILS” (Russian).
The entrance to the ancient cave (probably, the ancient tunnel) on the Medveditsa Ridge in the Lower Volga region. It was named because of the characteristic entrance, because of the standing in the middle of a round stone column it really looks like a giant (2×1 m) nostrils. Next to the “nostrils” 5 m to the south there is another rectilinear cave, called “Dragon Eyes” because of the similarity.
Unfortunately, the examination of “nostrils” in August 1997 by the 26th “Kosmopoisky” expedition showed that over the years meltwater streams closed the cave at a distance of about 57 m from the entrance. The cave has a low ceiling (0.5-0.9 m), mainly because the bottom is filled with pure white sand (probably brought by melting waters). In August 1999 the first attempts to excavate the cave were made, for which a drainage ditch from the cave was made.
* * * * Travel to “Devil’s Nostrils”: Only with a guide from “Kosmopoisk”! To visit the cave you need caving suit.
The famous natural cave, located near the railway platform Silikatnaya (near Moscow), about which there are many legends and stories of mysterious cases with varying degrees of reliability. One of the most authentic stories refers to the initial period of World War II, when the cave was equipped with a bomb shelter. A soldier from the front came to the nearby village during another bombing raid, who, on the advice of his fellow villagers, went to look for relatives to the cave.
Old women and children crawled out of the dilapidated entrance one by one, and finally the soldier’s wife showed up, but at that moment the huge stone slab began to subside. The soldier threw himself under the slab, delaying its fall, perhaps only for a moment, thus allowing the rest to leave. In front of dozens of people the brave man was crushed by a horrible-sized stone, but when they worked together to unearth the entrance and lift the slab, under it they found… nothing! The relatives later tried for a long time to find what they thought was the still-living soldier inside the caves during their next search. Somewhere underground, the grief-stricken mother had also disappeared.
That is the story, but the legend says that the ghosts of a soldier (in the form of the “White spirit of speleologist”) and his mother (in the form of “Two-faced”) can still be found in remote corners of the caves (there are several dozen cases of observations). In the 90s, the entrances to the caves were filled up due to the construction of an elite cottage community in this area, but amateur speleologists have made several attempts to dig a bypass passage. The opening of the caves was scheduled for 1996-97, but so far it has not been done.
* * * * * Travel to Silikatnaya cave: By train to the platform Silikaty; then on foot. Only with a guide!