FEATURED AT AZORES SYMPOSIUM
Copyright 2004 - All photos by J. Pint unless otherwise indicated Updated September, 2013
Sixty-seven cavers from fifteen countries came together on Portugal’s Pico Island, in the Azores, for the Eleventh International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology, May 14-17, 2004. Presentations and discussions on volcanic caves and pits were held every other day and, of course, in between there were visits to caves, calderas and other attractions of these volcanic islands of the Atlantic.
These meetings are held every two years under the auspices of the International Union of Speleology (UIS) Commission on Volcanic Caves. The last gathering was in Iceland and this year’s event was organized by cavers in the Azores (GESPEA) and the Environmental Department of the Regional Government.
Most of the opening talks were in Portuguese with simultaneous translation into English via headsets. Geologist Antonio M. Galopim de Carvalho led off with slides of natural wonders in Portugal which, despite many obstacles, are now being recognized as geomonuments by the government. He also stated that “Vulcanospeleology is no longer a punishment from God,” in reference to olden times when tremors, boiling seas and other “mysterious” volcanic phenomena were much feared on these islands.
After sampling the world’s most delicious “Churrasgo” chicken, we visited a two-km-wide caldera surrounded by all sorts of wildflowers, and then headed for our first cave...
SAUDI CAVE RATED AMONG WORLD'S TOP TEN
The next day featured presentations. The most important one for Saudi Arabia was Paolo Forti’s description of nineteen minerals, many of them quite rare, which his team discovered in samples we gathered from Hibashi Cave. The most unusual of these minerals were formed due to the effect of heat from a guano fire on the components of bat-urine “stalactites” and unburnt guano.
After showing surprisingly sharp pictures of these tiny crystals, Paolo announced that Saudi Arabia’s Hibashi Cave had been added to the list of the ten most important volcanic caves in the world in terms of the mineral contents of its speleothems. He further pointed out that the Hibashi results confirmed his theory that lava caves are likely to house more rare minerals than limestone caves.
It should be observed that inclusion among the ten most important volcanic caves of the world implies that Hibashi cave is eligible for world-scale recognition as one of the most important geological sites on the planet.
Below is a picture of one of the samples and a few of the minerals found. For more information, see "Ghar Al Hibashi Lava Tube: the richest site in Saudi Arabia for cave minerals" by P. Forti and others, available from GESPEA.
CAVE EDUCATION AND TOURISM IN THE AZORES
In other presentations, Azores cavers brought us up to date on the many different projects and studies they are involved in. Teófilo Braga discussed their environmental education program and told us that, in the last few years, 1,441 school children have gone on guided visits to the Gruta Do Carvao on Sao Miguel Island...
...Ines Vieira da Silva and Miguel Vieira showed
plans for an unconventional visitors’ center for Gruta das Torres Cave
on Pico Island. The shape, material and color would suggest lava and
fit in with the environment around the mouth of the cave. An equally
harmonious wall would protect the cave entrance from intruders while
still leaving it open to the sky. Stairs made of local
pahoehoe slabs have already been built...
...Ines Vieira da Silva and Miguel Vieira showed plans for an unconventional visitors’ center for Gruta das Torres Cave on Pico Island. The shape, material and color would suggest lava and fit in with the environment around the mouth of the cave. An equally harmonious wall would protect the cave entrance from intruders while still leaving it open to the sky. Stairs made of local pahoehoe slabs have already been built...
LAVA CAVES DISCOVERED IN JORDAN
Note: Dr. Kempe uses the term “lava tunnel” in preference to lava tube because his studies in Hawaii reveal that lava does not flow through channels which are later crusted over, but by repeated underflowing and inflating of initial lava deltas.
NEW PROJECTS IN SAUDI LAVA CAVES
The Hibashi presentation concluded with a report that Researchers working with the Field and Space Robotics Lab at MIT to develop microrobots for cave exploration on Mars, recently requested permission to use photos of Hibashi Cave to illustrate the possible interior conditions of lava tubes on Mars. They had been using Arizona caves as models, but they now think that the thick layer of loess on the floors of Saudi caves is closer to conditions that will be found on Mars.
HOW TO EXPLORE A CAVE WITH NO ENTRANCE
At this session, Chris Wood described the study of a lava cave in Iceland which no one has ever entered! These studies began in 2000 with a magnetometer and ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey which indicated that Stefánshellir Cave, (see Saudicaves in Iceland [[link]] ) continues on the other side of a 20m long lava seal at its upflow end. Three hundred and fifty meters of cave passage were “discovered” (but not seen!) and more recent studies indicated that the concealed cave (given the Icelandic name Hulduhellir, Hidden Cave) may be 1.2 kms long.
THE CAVES OF PICO ISLAND: GRUTA DAS TORRES
stairway leads down into Gruta das Torres.
A pahoehoe-block stairway leads down into Gruta das Torres.
GRUTA DOS MONTANHEIROS
GRUTA DO SOLDAO
guess what? Soldao Cave also has a lava gutter... which looks just
like... yes, you got it: a real gutter!
And guess what? Soldao Cave also has a lava gutter... which looks just like... yes, you got it: a real gutter!
UIS LAVA CAVE COMMISSION MEETING
HOPPERS AND SLIME
HAWAIIAN NEWS AND AN ICELANDIC DREAM
Later in the afternoon, Stephan Kempe presented two Hawaiian lava caves that have been eroded and greatly modified by water. Arni Stefansson of Iceland then speculated on ways to permit public viewing of Thrihnukagigur Cave, a giant bottle-shaped volcanic chimney. He proposed a balcony 60 m below the entrance, accessible through a 200 m man-made tunnel angling down from the surface. “The sight downward into the widening chamber is as if one were standing on the top of a 20-story building inside a mountain.” If one Euro could be collected from all persons who can't pronounce the name of this cave, Arni's project would be guaranteed success!
At the closing session of the Symposium, the Azorean cavers proudly announced the discovery -- made during the Pre-Symposium field trip to Algar do Montoso at S. Jorge Island -- of yet another new species of troglobitic insect (Trechus n.sp.). It was obvious from these presentations that studies of the flora and fauna in caves are likely to result in important discoveries and we look forward to the day when such research will begin in Saudi caves.
On this optimistic note, we end this report on the XI Symposium on Lava Caves and look forward to the next one on Cheju Island in Korea: MANSEI!
John J. Pint
UIS Commission on Lava Caves