NPS IYCK Monthly Themes and Highlights

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January—Exploration and Safety

Theme: Cave Exploration and Safety Past and Present

Introduction: In the NPS world of caves and karst, exploration and discovery are an ongoing activity. Every year, miles of cave passages are being seen and documented for the first time ever, and new species, some within new genera, are being discovered on a routine basis.

Topics: Discovery stories, surveying, mapping, science, safety…

Hashtags: #ICaveExploration #CaveSafety

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February—Conservation

Theme: Take only pictures and leave only footprints

Introduction: Cave and karst areas are fragile and easy to impact and contaminate. Cavers and land managers share in the responsibility to take care of these areas, to manage wisely using science to provide guidance, and to make decisions that give the resources the upper hand. The future of these amazing places depends on decisions we make today.

Topics: Leave no Trace Principles, cavers motto, cave softly, what you can do

Hashtags: #CaveEthics #CaveConservation

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March—Caves and Karst

Theme: It is imperative for our health and safety to protect caves and karst landscapes

Introduction: Karst is a type of typography formed on limestone, gypsum, and other rocks that dissolve in natural acid. Karst describes landscapes characterized by caves, sinkholes, underground aquifers. In this kind of landscape, streams disappear into the ground and reappear elsewhere as large springs. About 20% of the United States is underlain by karst landscapes and 40% of fresh groundwater we use for drinking comes from karst aquifers.

Topics: Landforms, features, critical value, aquifers

Hashtags: #CaveKarst

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April—Speleothems

Theme: Speleothems are mineral formations unique to caves

Introduction: Speleothems exhibit bizarre patterns and other-worldly forms, which give some caves a wonderland appearance. They are secondary mineral deposits that form within air-filled passageways and may be made of a variety of minerals. The most common cave mineral is calcite, but aragonite and gypsum are also common. At least 175 different minerals occur in limestone caves, a few of which have only been found in caves.

Topics: Rocks and minerals, deposition/growth, types

Hashtags: #CaveSpeleothems

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May—Cave Paleontology

Theme: Caves Preserve Evidence of Prehistoric Life

Introduction: Caves are important environments for the preservation of fossils. Caves act as sediment traps enabling the accumulation of fossils over thousands or even millions of years, and the stable temperature and humidity of caves help to preserve fossils. Cave fossils occur in two contexts, including: 1) fossils preserved within the bedrock in the caves formed; and 2) fossil remains of Pleistocene/Holocene animals and plants which either entered or lived in caves during their lives or were transported into the caves after death. Cave fossils are subdivided into four categories: fossil plants, invertebrates, vertebrates, and trace fossils.

Topics: Fossils in cave walls, fossils of cave dwellers, discoveries, preservation environment

Hashtags: #CaveFossils

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June— Junior Rangers

Theme: Explore caves as a Junior Ranger

Introduction: Walking, crawling, climbing, rappelling, diving—people do all these things when they explore caves. Just about any sort of person can be a caver. They can be tall or short, young or old, and live just about anywhere. There are many reasons why people cave: the thrill of exploration, the enjoyment of taking photographs, or the satisfaction of mapping cave passages. People who go caving for science are called speleologists. Some speleologist study cave animals; others study the geology of caves. There are speleologists who study underground rivers because of their importance to how caves form and to our drinking water. The next time that you visit a cave park or park’s website, look for information on their Junior Ranger program for opportunities to learn more.

Topics: Park programs, Junior Cave Scientist activity book, challenges and games

Hashtags: #CaveKids

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July—Climate

Theme: Caves preserve Earth’s climate history

Introduction: Daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations that occur at the surface tend to diminish as heat moves down through bedrock into caves. Cave temperatures are nearly constant throughout the year and are approximately equal to the average annual temperature at the surface. To visitors, caves may feel pleasantly cool in the summer and far warmer than the surface in the winter. On a larger scale, long-term changes to average global temperature can affect the rate that caves and speleothems form. Cave formations and fossils in caves preserve a record Earth’s history and climate and are natural laboratories for modern research.

Topics: Climate record, average temperature, sheltering wildlife, ice age records

Hashtags: #CaveClimate

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August—Cave Critters

Theme: Caves and karst provide a unique subsurface habitat for rare animals

Introduction: Cave organisms can be categorized by how much time they spend in caves. They can also be segregated by where they live in caves: ceiling, walls, floor; entrance zone, twilight zone, dark zone. Beyond the twilight zone, which extends only a short distance in from the entrance, caves are completely dark. Cave animals called troglobites have adapted to total darkness and permanently live in the dark zone of caves. Their adaptations include extra-long feelers for finding their way around in the dark.

Topics: Extremophiles, blind/colorless, life zones…

Hashtags: #CaveCritters

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September—Lava Tubes and Other Dark Places

Theme: Caves can form in a variety of rock types and locations

Introduction: Lava tubes or caves are hollow spaces beneath the surface of a solidified lava flow. When molten, fluid lava flows out of a volcano, it works its way downhill. In contact with air, the surface of this lava stream cools and hardens into a crust. The lava inside remains molten, however, and continues to flow downhill. When the molten lava eventually drains out of the interior of the hard-crusted passage, a lava tube or cave remains.

Topics: Formation, features, examples

Hashtags: #CaveLavaTubes

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October—Bats in Caves

Theme: Cave Habitat and the Role of Bats in Nature

Introduction: Many national parks have bats. In fact, more than 50 species of bats live in national parks in trees, in caves, and in old mines and other manmade structures. In many areas, bat habitat is being lost to urban development, but National Parks preserve many important bat caves. Some bats like certain caves for raising their young and other caves for winter hibernation. See Bat Week Facts—All About Bats.

Topics: Species, roost types, benefits, White-nose Syndrome

Hashtags: #CaveBats

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November—Groundwater

Theme: Cave and Karst Systems Supply Fresh Water

Introduction: Cave and karst resources are valued for the large amounts of freshwater they contain. The National Park Service (NPS) manages over 4,700 caves including 4 out of the longest 6 in the world and karst landscapes that encompass some of the largest freshwater springs in North America.

Topics: Aquifers, drinking water, surface development, springs and sinking streams

Hashtags: #CaveWaters

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December—Archeology

Theme: Since prehistoric times, people have used caves for many purposes

Introduction: Caves preserve a variety of archeological resources such as rock art, historical signatures, and more. People have long used caves as dwelling places, burial sites, storehouses, and places of worship. Protected from the sun and elements, caves usually have stable temperatures and high humidity that can preserve artifacts for thousands of years.

Topics: Cultural resources, human use, artifacts…

Hashtags: #CaveArcheology

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Last updated: September 15, 2021

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