Chris Scaife has produced a new guide to the Caves of Northumberland. We will be selling it as soon as Tony puts it on the site!
Malham Cave in Israel’s Mount Sodom has now been surveyed at over 10km long, making it the world’s longest salt cave. This is an account of the expedition by the leader of the 2019 mapping team, Boaz Langford of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
WORLD’S LONGEST SALT CAVE DISCOVERED IN ISRAEL
After Holding the Title for 13 Years, Iran Cedes Title to Israel
“Following biblical recounting of Lot’s Wife who was turned into a pillar of salt, Israel’s Dead Sea region is now famous for a second salt phenomenon: Malham Cave, the world’s longest salt cave.
For thirteen years, this title was held by Iran’s Cave of the Three Nudes (3N) on Qeshm Island. Now, an international expedition led by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Cave Research Center (CRC), Israel Cave Explorers Club, and Bulgaria’s Sofia Speleo Club, along with 80 cavers from nine countries, has successfully mapped the Malham salt cave in the Dead Sea’s Mount Sodom which, at 10 kilometers long, now bears the title of world’s longest salt cave.
Salt caves are living things, geologically speaking. They form mostly in desert regions with salt outcrops, such as Chile’s Atacama Desert, Iran’s Qeshm Island and Israel’s Dead Sea. What helps them form is water—even arid climates see the occasional rainstorm. When it does rain, water rushes down cracks in the surface, dissolving salt and creating semi-horizontal channels along the way. After all the rainwater drains out, these dried out “river beds” remain and salt caves are formed.
Fitting this description is Israel’s Mount Sodom, an 11km long mountain that sits 170 meters below sea level at the southwestern tip of the Dead Sea. Underneath a thin layer of cap rock, this mountain is made entirely of salt (just like the kind we season our food with). Two factors protect this mountain from dissolving away: the sturdy cap rock that covers its salt, and the arid climate of the Negev Desert. Mount Sodom gets roughly 50mm of rain a year, mostly in short but dramatic rain bursts. As Professor Amos Frumkin, director of the CRC at HU’s Institute of Earth Sciences, explained, “The Malham Salt Cave is a river cave. Water from a surface stream flowed underground and dissolved the salt, creating caves – a process that is still going on when there is strong rain over Mount Sodom about once a year.” In this way, the Malham Salt Cave is “alive” and continues to grow.
Malham was initially discovered by the CRC back in the 1980’s. Later, tens of CRC expeditions surveyed Mount Sodom and found more than 100 salt different caves inside, the longest of which measured 5,685 meters. Subsequent carbon-14 tests dated the cave as 7,000 years old, give or take, and successive rainstorms created new passages for the cavers to explore. When the international expeditions returned to Malham in 2018 and 2019, their surveys discovered the cave’s record-breaking, double-digit length. “Thirty years ago, when we surveyed Malham, we used tape measures and compasses. Now we have laser technology that beams measurements right to our iPhones,” Frumkin recalled.
Notably, Malham is the world’s first salt cave to reach a length in the double-digits. By comparison, Iran’s Qeshm Island salt cave, now the world’s secondlargest salt cave, measures only 6,580 meters. In addition to its length, the Malham Cave contains a stunning array of salt stalactites and salt crystals within its chambers. These salt icicles hang from the cave’s ceiling and grow longer and fatter as each drop of water rolls down before evaporating into the salty air.
Currently, the survey team is processing final data from the new Malham Cave surveys to create an electronic map of the cave and to publish its findings.
The international cave expeditions that worked together to map Malham Cave include Israel’s Cave Explorers Club, HU’s Cave Research Center, and Bulgaria’s Sofia Caving Club & Speleo School. The survey team included cavers from Israel, Bulgaria, France, United Kingdom, Croatia, Romania, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Boaz Langford, Member of HU’s Cave Research Center and head of the 2019 Malham Cave Mapping Expedition: “Israel’s salt caves are a global phenomenon. My colleagues around the world are always amazed at what we find here. Returning to survey Malham Cave allowed us to reveal its full dimensions and rank Israel as first among the world’s longest salt caves.”
Yoav Negev, Chairman, Israel Cave Explorers Club and project leader of the Malham Cave Mapping Expedition: “This entire project began with a call to Antoniya Vlaykova at Bulgaria’s Sofia Caving Club & Speleo School. From the very beginning they showed real interest in collaborating with us and in taking on a central role in the project. Soon we had a 50-member delegation—half international, half Israeli. The Malham Cave is a one of kind expedition that demonstrated the power of international caving delegations coming together to achieve something remarkable. The fact that we came away with a new world record is icing on the cake.”
Efraim Cohen, Member of HU’s Cave Research Center: “Mapping Malham Cave took hard work. We cavers worked 10-hour days underground, crawling through icy salt channels, narrowly avoiding salt stalactites and jaw-dropping salt crystals. Down there it felt like another planet. Our next and final step is to map the tightest spots and the most difficult ones to reach. When we’re all done, it’s likely we’ll add a few hundred meters to Malham’s impressive 10 kilometer length.”
The 2018 and 2019 Malham Cave expeditions were supported by the Bulgarian Federation of Speleology, the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Bulgaria, the European Federation of Speleology (FSE) and its sponsors Aventure Verticale, Korda’s, Scurion, and Bulgaria Air.
The caves at Creswell Crags are well-known for their ice age art, but visitors have now identified hundreds of scratches and lettering as being apotropaic marks dating from the 16th and 17th centuries – placed there to guard against evil spirits rising up from the underworld.
Congratulations from Starless River to all concerned: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46701985
Tony has been diving in the Lot this week. Here are some pictures from Pou Meyssen – a 2400m round trip with canals and dry cave at the end.
The world’s longest underwater system has been created by the joining of Sac Actun, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, with Dos Ojos, by divers of the Proyecto Gran Acuifero Maya. The divers have found evidence of early human occupation dating from 10,000 – 12,000 years ago, along with the bones of elephants, giant sloths, bears, tigers and prehistoric horses. There is a brief write-up in the Guardian – see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/17/worlds-longest-underwater-cave-system-discovered-mexico-divers-gran-acuifero-maya or for Spanish speakers there is better detail in El Pais: https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/01/16/la_serpiente_emplumada/1516119767_618043.html?autoplay=1
The exploration website is at https://granacuiferomaya.com/2018/01/15/la-cueva-inundada-mas-grande-del-mundo-forma-parte-del-gran-acuifero-maya/
Over the last couple of months I’ve had an opportunity to make some potentially interesting dives in OFD. I was lucky enough to have the sumps downstream of The Confluence as having been dived only a couple of times previously back in the Noughties. The water encountered here is not, I think, the same as that which sinks in downstream OFD2; but I expect that this section of passage will be an inlet to the main flow.
The main activity has been underwater digging, but of such a shallow and benign nature (strong flow whips away silt within a matter of seconds) that it is very nearly a pleasure! In terms of kit, this is a twin cylinder site, the appropriate clothing is a wetsuit and diving vest (both Warmbac) with neoprene gloves as a little luxury. The best thing about this is that the carry in through Cwm Dwr in a wetsuit is actually quite comfortable through the crawls and boulder choke, even after a bit of rain. A bonus is that I’m learning the optimum route through this section of cave.
Thanks are due to various SWCC members for putting me on the trail, and also – and especially – to those Imperial College stalwarts who made the first carry in for me!
Researchers in Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany have been investigating oscillations in the North Atlantic weather system by using paleoclimate data from aragonite stal in caves in the High Atlas in Morocco. See https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170411085953.htm
Photo Jasper Wassenburg JGU.
ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer has joined the 5th Mine Analogue Research Sortie, practising ways of searching for life in hostile environments – in this case highly concentrated salt solutions. See http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Caves/Mine_Craft_for_Mars