Wind Cave Temperature Fluctuation Study


Although Wind Cave National Park staff has been taking temperature readings within the cave since the park's establishment, little research has been conducted to determine what effects the modifications and human presence in the cave are having on the cave climate and environment. The exception to this is during the 1980's when Jim Nepstad and Jim Pisarowicz conducted extensive cave climate studies to determine the effects of the historic entrance. Their work indicated that an airlock was needed for both the entrance used for the Natural Entrance Tour and the elevator shaft, to reduce the amount of air being exchanged through these unnatural openings (Nepstad and Pisarowicz 1989). Since that time, a revolving door airlock has been installed at the "historic" entrance, and airlocks have also been installed at the two elevator landings in the cave.

Most work that has been done in the United States on the effects of temperature on a cave environment has been concerned with the input from an entrance. Little has been done to investigate the inputs from other sources. In contrast, much work has been done abroad. Studies have shown that lighting systems add tremendous heat to the cave environment (Forti and Cigna 1989, Mongelli 1961). The influence of visitors on climatic regimes of caves has been described by Halbrichova and Ancarik (1981), Stelcl (1990 and 1992), Cigna (1983 and 1993), Villar (1984), and Mongelli (1961). All the studies found an increase in temperature due to cave visitors and in some cases a recovery period as long as several days.


The purpose of this study is to determine what unnatural sources are influencing the temperature in Wind Cave. Unnatural heat input can have several negative impacts.

Air entering the cave via a manmade opening will influence the natural air temperature and at times, dramatically enough to cause physical damage. Numerous times throughout Wind Cave's history rocks have fallen onto the trail near the historic entrance due to freeze-thaw wedging. One rock fall consisted of over one ton of rock and blocked the entire route.

The cave fauna has adapted to living in a stable environment that does not undergo many fluctuations. Even the smallest of change in temperature can have dramatic impacts.

Mineral deposits in the cave also rely on the stability of the cave environment. Unnatural changes can affect the mineral's growth, crystal structure, and even the type of mineral deposited (Hill and Forti 1997).


Onset Hobo Pro Series data loggers will be used to record temperatures within the cave to detect temperature fluctuations resulting from the lighting system (lights and transformers), manmade entrances, candles, and humans.

To determine input from the lighting system, a series of six dataloggers (hockey puck size) will be placed near a light or transformer at five-foot intervals to determine not only the degree of input, but also the distance at which the input is affecting the natural air temperature. The distances will be modified if the findings warrant it. This will be conducted over a four-week period during the winter months on the Fairgrounds Tour. Six lights and two transformers will be monitored.

To determine input from the two manmade entrances (revolving door and elevator shaft), a series of six dataloggers will be placed at twenty-foot intervals near each entrance to determine the level of input and the distance of the influence. The distances will be modified if the findings warrant it. This will be conducted for a four-week period during the summer and a four-week period during the winter to determine the influences of the entrances during different surface temperature and barometric pressure conditions.

To determine if candles on the Candlelight tour are influencing the cave temperature a staged experiment will be conducted. Eleven individuals using low-heat LED lights will enter a room, stay for ten minutes, and then exit the room. This will be repeated the following day using the same eleven individuals but carrying candles instead of LEDs. The temperatures from the two days will then be compared.

To determine human temperature input data loggers will be placed at four locations. Two locations will be in rooms where the tour stops for a given period of time. The other two locations will be where a tour passes by without stopping. At each location a data logger will be placed near the floor, mid-level, and near the ceiling. The light usage, tour size, and tour intervals will be recorded to correlate with any rise in temperature. This will be conducted for a four-week period during the summer months.

The data will be analyzed using Onset Boxcar Pro 4 software. The results will be shared with the park to aid in management decisions regarding airlocks on manmade entrances, the lighting system replacement project, and carry capacity for cave tours.


Cigna, A. 1983. The Criterion of Visitors Capacity of Commercial Caves. International Meeting on the Show Caves and their Problems.

Cigna, A., and P. Forti. 1989. The Environmental Impact Assessment of a Tourist Cave. Cave Tourism: Proceedings International Symposium for the 170th Anniversary of Postojnska Jama, Postojna, p. 29-38.

Cigna, A. 1993. Environmental Management of Tourist Caves. The Examples of Grotta di Castellana and Grotta Grande del Vento, Italy. Environmental Geology, 21: p. 173-180.

Halbichova, I., and A. Ancarik. 1981. Visitors and Climatic Regime of Caves. 8th International Congress of Speleology Proceedings.

Hill, Carol, and Paolo Forti. 1997. Cave Minerals of the World, p. 258-261.

Mongelli, F. 1961. Rilievo Della Temperatura Dell'aria Nelle Grotte DI Castellana. Boll. Geofis. Teor. Appl., p. 197-208.

Nepstad, Jim, and Jim Pisarowicz. 1989. Wind Cave, South Dakota: Temperature and Humidity Variations. NSS Bulletin v. 51, p. 125-128.

Stelcl, O. 1990. Impact of Tourism on the Natural Environment of the Caves Open to the Public in the Moravian Karst. Studia Carsologica, p. 121-132.

Stelcl, O. 1992. Some Aspects of Anthropogenic Impact on the Natural Environment of the Tourist Caves in the Moravian Karst. Analysis and Synthesis of Geographic Systems, Czechoslovak Academy of Science, p. 139-155.

Villar, E., and others. 1984. Ambient Temperature Variation in the Hall of Paintings of Altamira Cave Due to the Presence of Visitors. Cave Science, transactions of the British Cave Research Association, p. 99-104.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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