Caves: Nature's Majestic, Mysterious Wonders
The world is full of natural beauty, but there’s nothing quite like the wonders of a cave. The natural voids are home to everything from mineral formations to ancient discoveries and have attracted the interest of adventurous explorers for centuries.
With seven different types of caves — plus various sub-styles — it's no wonder these mysterious and majestic enclosures continue to captivate the imagination. Time to go spelunking and check it out!
Caves Take Millennia to Form
Obviously, beautiful caves around the world don't just form overnight. It took more than 100,000 years for these natural holes and crevices to become what they are today. It takes that much time for hard substances like limestone, dolomite, gypsum and other types of sediment to erode to the point where the tunnels are large enough for humans to explore.
Water Erosion Plays a Role
Water erosion plays a huge part in most cave formations, especially those that are both underwater and against the shoreline. When water pushes and flows against the rock for a long enough time, it begins to wear it down until it slowly tears pieces away.
Caves Wouldn't Exist Without Chemistry
It may sound strange, but chemistry has a hand in the birth of new caves around the world. The acid level of the water flowing through an area plays a part in grinding away at the rock. When the acidic water reacts with carbon dioxide gas that has been released from the top level of soil above, it forms carbonic acid.
Volcanic Forces Help Caves Along
When it comes to creating new caves, volcanic forces such as flowing magma often lead to cave formations that have nothing to do with water erosion. When a volcano erupts, it sends a river of lava flowing that eventually makes its way into the crevices and canyons of the Earth.
It's All About the Pressure
It doesn’t matter if the cave is being carved out by water or wind. The most important part of erosion is the amount of pressure being applied by the force of the water or the wind. This pressure determines just how much erosion will take place.
Plate Tectonics Create Magic
Another way caves are formed is through tectonic movement. When the rocks are moved by plate tectonics, fractures or joints in the Earth begin to pull apart. It's sort of like pulling apart a piece of bread. The sides have nearly identical patterns, and the narrow opening becomes a passageway of sorts.
An Interesting Name Says It All
Geologists have long studied caves, and this study has its own special name. Speleology is defined as "the scientific study of caves and other karst features, as well as their make-up, structure, physical properties, history, life forms and the processes by which they form and change over time."
True Caves Appear All Over the World
A true cave is a cave that was created naturally and is large enough for humans to enter. That being said, there are so many caves across the world, that it would be impossible to officially confirm numbers. Suffice it to say, around 50,000 true caves have been found and are known to scientists.
Not All Caves Are Alike
Due to the way caves are formed — erosion, lava, different pressures and materials — it would be impossible to find two caves in the world that are completely identical. They all have their own special markings that have been forged into their walls throughout creation, and those markings all vary from cave to cave.
The largest caves known to man are called solution caves. They are the most common and the most well-known cave type on the planet. Groundwater dissolves dolomite and limestone to form these caves and give them room to grow into monstrosities.
Lava caves are usually found near active volcanoes, and four different processes contribute to their formation. In the first scenario, lava tubes are created by the aforementioned volcanic process. The remaining three are created using pressure ridge caves, spatter cone chambers and blister caves.
Glacier caves, otherwise known as ice caves, form between glacial ice and bedrock. This happens when water that has melted finds its way down through crevasses in the Earth and erodes the rock, eventually carving out a beautiful ice cave.
Sea caves owe their existence to the water erosion method of creation previously mentioned. The chemical reaction of the limestone and water helps break the caves down, and they are usually found either under the water or along the shoreline.
Another unique type of cave is the fracture cave. These majestic beauties form in a different way than other caves. They are born when rocks around a particular area collapse due to a dissolving soluble layer, which is usually made of gypsum.
Another impressive feat for Mother Nature's cave creations is the talus cave. These caves are on the small side, but that doesn't make them any less majestic. When boulders pile up on mountain slopes, the openings between them eventually form a talus cave.
The eolian caves found throughout the world are truly magical. They owe their creation to wind pressure and are usually found in desert areas. When strong winds continuously bombard sandstone cliffs, it eventually creates a cavity in the rock.
When a sea cave made out of limestone or volcanic rock floods with seawater, it forms an anchialine cave. These caves are the underwater deep-sea caves that were seemingly lost to civilization prior to humans' ability to scuba dive at great depths.
In 2018, Russian scientists discovered a bizarre cave, but it wasn't how it was formed or even what it looked like that made it stand out. The crazy part was what they found inside the 5.5-million-year-old unexplored cave that really made an impression.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things the Earth has to offer, blue holes are actually another type of cave. They formed during the Ice Age when sea levels were low, and typical erosion took place. The caverns open up at the surface of the ocean and reach down into the depths to carbonate bedrock.
The Hellfire Caves are a good example of a cave system not created by Mother Nature. These caves were carved out by humans in the 1700s for Baron Francis Dashwood. The cave system is made of chalk and flint and runs about 400 meters under Wycombe, England.
Some Caves Hide Ancient Secrets
Caves around the world have been long explored because of their connection to the past, and many amazing things have been found buried deep inside them. The remnants of what is considered to be the oldest ritual in the world were found in a cave in Botswana, for example.
Others Have Yet to Be Touched
Most scientists believe there are millions of caves on the planet, and only a fraction of those caves have been explored. Due to the depths of the Earth and some of the caves, getting to the bottom of things isn’t easy. Even when experts try, some caves are simply impossible — or too dangerous — to explore.
They Harbor Hidden Ecosystems
Many creatures call caves home. Bats set up shop on the roofs of caves, because the damp, dark habitat suits their nocturnal ways. Deep-sea fish also find safe homes in underwater caves that can't be explored by humans.
Man Has Used Caves for Centuries
Cave use goes all the way back to the earliest humans. Considering the times, they were perfect for providing sheltering from the elements and predators. The air in caves is usually cooler — no exposure to the sun — so in hotter climates, caves serve as great natural air conditioners.
Grottos Are Wildly Popular
Grottos all over the world have grown in popularity because of their natural beauty. Instagram fanatics flock to famous grottos on their travels to capture that perfect selfie surrounded by the amazing wonder of one of Mother Nature's most beautiful creations.
They Are Shrouded in Mystery
Caves that have been discovered and explored have proven over and over just how much history they can hide within their depths. Some caves go so deep that no one has ever dared to spelunk their way to the bottom.
Underwater Caves Make for Beautiful Exploration
Underwater caves are the least explored because of their inaccessibility. The ones that are within reach, however, feature some of the most beautiful finds nature has to offer. The deep-sea caves are so wild that animals have evolved over millions of years, just to be able to survive in them.
Some Caves Form Natural Pillars
In some limestone caves, natural hanging pillars known as stalactites are formed as the caves are created. The formations hang from the ceilings of caves and can be made of lava, minerals, sand and other materials.
The Depth of Some Caves Is Terrifying
Some caves are seemingly bottomless pits. No amount of exploration can help people get to the bottom of some of the most explored caves on the planet. A great example of one scary-deep cave is the Krubera Cave.
Some Are Better Than Others
All caves are formed due to interesting — and time consuming — processes, but some feature results that are far superior to others. The most famous caves in the world are proof of that. The Glowworm Cave in New Zealand has become a huge draw for tourists over the years, thanks to its starry-night appearance.