Exploring Natures Plumbing System
Caves of the National Park System


BROADCAST DATE: TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2006

What good are caves? In a practical sense, they are nature’s plumbing system and homes to many animals. For people with various needs, values and levels of curiosity, caves provide places for adventure, shelter, and cutting-edge research. Discoveries made in caves offer us a glimpse into the past and the future and continue to lead us into future exploration. The National Park Service protects 81 sites that contain over a thousand limestone caves and lava tubes. About a dozen sites offer tours where park visitors enjoy scenic views made up of slow-growing speleothems — what you may know as stalactites, stalagmites, cave bacon, etc. Visitors also marvel at the fish, bats and insects that call caves home, but it is microbes that are a main form of life in caves. By studying bacteria that exists underground, scientists are gaining a better understanding of how biology shapes our world and influences geology. Cave microbes may hold a key to a cure for cancer or may help us recognize life on Mars. Caves also preserve evidence of ancient cultures, such as pictographs and stone tools, and keep alive the spirit of exploration through the stories of past and current explorers.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is universally recognized as a World Heritage site and contains the deepest limestone cave in the United States and the largest easily accessible cave room in the world. The caves are known for the huge size of their chambers, that result from an unusual cave hollowing process, through Sulfuric acid dissolution.

Through this electronic field trip featuring Carlsbad Caverns and other National Park caves, participants will explore and experience live below the surface to learn more about this fascinating ecosystem (including geologic processes, the "twilight" zone, value of water, historical uses, and animal adaptations to life without sunlight, such as fish). Come discover a different world as you go underground with the National Park Service and see where the caves lead you.

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