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University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Publication Date

Fall 2012

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


As it has been said by many of the great scientists before us, “Geology Rocks.” While this may not be entirely scientific, the debatably of this statement as a whole truth is next to zero. But we mustn’t forget the latest contester in the battle of rocks- that is- Speleology. As the boundaries of science are continually being stretched to greater distances, we see the development of new branches of science to accommodate these boundary-breakthroughs. Speleology refers to the study of caves and is considered to be relatively new and unexplored. Generally, a cave survey (essentially a quantified and tangible map) is one of the preliminary steps to initiate further research. This study aims to do just that, in relation to the Caves of Lake Bayano, Panama, and more specifically, Cueva Guhamra in Del Teritorio de Maje Embera Dvua.

The cave survey was created by setting up line-of-sight stations, as well as measuring the distance in meters between, recording the angle of cardinal direction and floor inclination, measuring the width and height of each tunnel, and taking additional notes on cave formations of geological interest. After adapting the numbers with a few geometric equations, both a top view directional representation of the cave as well as a graph of vertical variance in inclination were generated. It was concluded that the cave is at least 67.39 meters long, and possibly up to twice long when considering inaccessible tunnels and unmeasured tunnels, the cave could potentially be 100+ meters in length. The vertical inclination had a variance of approximately ±12 meters.

In addition to the map of the cave, main geological cave formations, or speleothems were studies and analyzed. The cave was abundant in many classical speleothems, such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, cave pearls, cave crystals, cave coral, flowstone, and drapery. These formations are telling of the surrounding geological happenings and conditions because the formations of these substances require highly specific conditions. In order for speleothems to form the surrounding rock (thus the cave itself) must be composed of 80% calcium carbonate and the surrounding bedrock must be highly fractured to allow rain and groundwater to permeate through to the cave (3). Likewise the cave must be in an area of substantial rainfall (>500 mm) as well as relatively close to the surface to allow for rainwater seepage (3). Lastly, it is important for the above ground vegetation to supply the availability for acids for speleothem growth. All of these factors can help explain the chemical, physiological, and historical processes of the area.

However, though the basics of speleothem are known, there is dispute in the scientific community of the how and why details. Because cave formations are delicate and non-abundant, as well as chemically diverse, the continual discovery and exploration of the caves is a necessity to better understand these processes. The only way to study and understand speleothems is to explore and create useable works from discovery, like cave surveys, to pave the way for greater scientific interest, and ultimately, knowledge.


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