I very, very badly want to go spelunking one day. Specifically I need to confront my fear of creepycrawlies first though.

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In 1986 some geothermal teams in communist Romania drilled their way into a subterranean world, a world which had been cut off from the rest of the biosphere for 5.5 million years. No food, water, sunlight, or even radioactive particles from the Chernobyl disaster had made it there, these biologist and cavers were the first. It was warm and full of toxic gases, and it had a lake that was absolutely teeming with creatures. This is Movile Cave in Romania.

The cave was filled with 33 unique and endemic species of troglobites, among them were spiders, centipedes, leeches, and many, many isopods. They fed on a thin gooey film of chemosynthetic bacteria on the water and walls, the first known example of a terrestrial chemosynthetic ecosystem.

Movile's oxygen content is just 10%, compared to the normal atmospheric 20%. Without a supply of oxygen, you soon feel a headache. It is uncomfortably warm, and is full of toxic gasses which smells like rotten eggs and burning rubber. Access to the cave was very strictly controlled because the journey through it is incredibly treacherous. At times, you have to dive into the lake to get to an air bell, and the squeeze in places can be tight enough where scuba tank must be taken off your back and pushed ahead of you as you swim forwards. Less than 100 people have ever been there, and once scientists had done their research, the Romanian authorities closed off the cave forever because the journey is so hazardous. The first and second air bells are thick with toxic vapors, and the thicker the toxic vapors, the more common the life in the cave.

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The biologists found examples of life found both in the cave and at the bottom of some wells in the surrounding region, suggesting that the Movile cave ecosystem stretches out with the water table for kilometres in all directions, a true subterranean ecosystem, the full extent of which we may never truly know for certain.

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What other undiscovered worlds live underneath us, evolving separately after having been cut off? How many creatures will forever remain undiscovered because we didn't happen to drill into them while looking for good spots to put a geothermal power plant? We may never know what is truly down there in the depths.

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Caves breathe, they grow, they can be injured and they can heal themselves. Caves change with time, they are dynamic things, in many ways, caves themselves are alive.

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In 1910, under the highlands of central Mexico in the Naica Mine of Mexico, a precious metals mining company discovered what would be known as the Cave of Swords. At a depth of 120 meters, the cave was a fascination to tourists, who damaged the cave. 90 years later, the same mining company began to pump the water out of another cave they had discovered, on the other side of the mountain, at a depth of 300 meters...

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What they discovered in that cave was this. Giant Crystal Cave, or the Cave of the Crystals. Some of the largest crystals ever discovered, bigger than trees, beneath the Chihuahua desert they had been growing in the perfect environment for 500,000 years.

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These giant crystals have been growing in this water at 65 C, heated by magma below and filled with groundwater. The walls of the cave dissolve in the water, and the freed gypsum minerals then coalesces into these massive, massive selenite crystals. As the cave grows, so do the crystals. This process continued right up until we drained the cave, but even now the cave remains hot and humid. Humans can't spend more than a few minutes in the cave because the humidity is dangerously close to 100%, and the temperatures are just hotter than human body temperature, which means that water in the air will condensate on the coolest surface around--your lungs. A miner who ignored the risks drowned to death in his own lungs like this.

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Eventually, water will again fill this cave, and the crystals will begin to grow again. Studying the strange process by which caves grow and change can help us understand what life might be like on other planets, where caves might just be the most hospitable places around. Caves are dynamic, always changing things.

They're dangerous, and ancient, and almost alive by some definition. I can't help but lend them an understanding of their own agency and respect, they command it. They are places entirely without light, places isolated and alien, but evolving places, changing, breathing things. And when you don't respect their dangers, they kill you. Caves are extremely cool.

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"The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity, too great for the eye of man."
*-- William Blake*

Fear of the dark fades with age, but it leads to an intoxicating fascination, that strange urge to stick your head over a cliff to see its bottom, that urge that makes you want to push your hand into a tiger's cage. The urge to experience something entirely outside of your understanding. The call of the void. The song of the depths.

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Running your hands over the rings of a tree is a fascinating way by which we've domesticated time. The tree used to be alive, but now we've killed it, and we can run our hands across all its banded years and its an act of control and domination. After all, the tree is dead and we are not. In a war of tree and man, man wins.

Stone does not live. In reading time in the bands of colored rocks, a human action is nothing. A thin skin of carbon rich sediment along the very top. Deep time stretches out before us and makes insignificant even our greatest works. Indifferent aeons await us. We can run our hands along these layers, but there's no lasting victory, in the battle between stone and man, stone wins.

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Caves are a route through both space and time, a world inside of the stone is a fissure into time as well.

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Ancient things, things older than our whole species, things which will outlast us, processes which are so slow as to be so incomprehensible, but so powerful as to have the inertia to raise mountians, shake the world, and open up chasms in itself, countless undiscovered underworlds, growing and outlasting us, indifferent and unknowable. Stone is rippling with more energy than we can understand, in the momentum of a continent there is hardly a force that could stop it. A volcano is unable to be controlled. Stone reminds us that the Earth can never be tamed.

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Our mines run so deep that our miners now must wear refrigerated airtight suits, spacesuits for the underworld. Cave expeditions have gone deeper than ever before, kilometers down, and down there we have found microbial life, eeking out life in solid stone literally miles under the surface. By some estimates, there is more life by mass under the ground than there is on the surface, or in the depths of the sea.

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@starwall every time i read a description like this, i invariably worry that it's probably already been destroyed by the time I'm learning about it.

I was immensely relieved to find out, after a quick google search, that from what I can tell pains have apparently been taken to KEEP this cave as weird and isolated as it has been, barring careful study

@starwall learning about giant crystal cave was one of the catalysts for me changing my major from bio to enviro with a geo focus

@swirlz @starwall

ahh geology is so cool!

I majored in it in college and some days I dream about going back

@Alonealastalovedalongthe @starwall coastal geomorph and invert paleo were my focuses to get specific 🥰 so many amazing things to learn through geology

@swirlz @starwall

Geomorphology is super cool! Also glaciology and the insane destructive power of ice and how it shaped the landscape of places like new england.

I got to use a sem microscope in college to take photos of these creatures called dacryocranarids (I think thats how they are spelled) from the devonian. Their shells look like gnome hats and nobody knows what the creature inside looked like.

@Alonealastalovedalongthe @starwall i legit was just explaining glacial moraines to my friend the other day 🤑
also i ALSO took pix of shells on an SEM in college lmao wth

@Alonealastalovedalongthe @starwall also that sounds really cool, im not familiar with the mystery gnome hats!

@starwall You're reigniting our love of caves and nature in general with this thread.

As a kid, we went to Mammoth Caves one time in Kentucky. It was absolutely spectacular, but we knew that what we saw only scratched the surface of what was in that massive cave system, let alone what was in other cave systems throughout the world.

@KitsuneAlicia Mammoth Cave left an impression on me too... I want to go back

@starwall Let's just say that the water was so clean that even though we were warned by the tour guide that the water was one step below us, we still had to accidentally get our shoe soaking wet before we knew for sure. XD

@starwall We also remember the tour guide saying they offered spelunking tours that went down that stairway carved into the rock.

Our parents have always been overprotective, though, and so we've never gone spelunking in our life.

@starwall < well ı meɑn trees ɑlso kındɑ wın sınce we keep replɑntıng þem. lıke we lıterɑlly do þe work for lıke, entıre specıes ⭐

@starwall hey, have you read the Veins of the Earth? it's a tabletop setting/monster manual/realistic caving rules sourcebook that takes this view of the underdark

@starwall I'm begging you, write a short story or something
you clearly have the descriptive talent

@starseeker read Veins of the Earth. It's incredible and it inspired this whole thread

@starwall < when wıll we fınɑlly fınd ɑ demon down þere ⭐

@starwall this is why I don't believe anthropogenic climate change represents an end. Even if we manage to fully destroy the macrobiome of the surface, which I think is beyond even nuclear annihilation to accomplish, the archaebacteria that remain the majority of the biosphere will not be inconvenienced in the slightest

@robotcarsley @starwall i mean yeah that's true, the earth will go on living regardless, but it will be unrecognizable to us, and (more importantly imo) create a lot of suffering along the way. climate action has gotta be the project of protecting the life that exists now.

@chillgamesh @starwall right, I don't disagree with that, I'm just saying we don't have to despair because even if we fuck up maximally it's still beyond us to actually eradicate all life on earth

@starwall Weird way to introduce your new game: Rock, Human, Tree

@starwall what about petrified wood? Ultimately stone wins, but does humanity or the forest get the assist

@starwall also, remembering when I visited the Petrified Forest in Arizona, and we discovered a small, incredibly beautiful piece as we neared the exit. It didn't belong with the pieces surrounding it. It had clearly been picked up by someone who intended to steal it, and lost their nerve at the last moment. I wonder where it is now.

@starwall holy shit. thats awesome in the truest sense. also my dungus brain was like "it's a hazard in a videogame"

@roadkillcobra I used the exact same hazard on my party in DnD, and after I had described the hazard, I represented it with a 30 minute long hour glass

@starwall iirc a poacher (possibly more than one) broke into the cave and tried to grab some of the big crystals, but one of them fell and trapped his leg/foot. they found out a couple days later, when they found what was left of the poacher. there may have been others, but that incident presumably warned them off more effectively than any amount of locked gates, warning signs, or park rangers possibly could have.

also I remember when I first saw pictures of that cave, of the people in it, I thought for *sure* it was a photoshopped hoax. and then when I researched and found out it was real I *cried*.

@troodon the world continues to be far more terrifying, impossible, and magical a place than we ever suspected

@starwall the worst crime that was perpetrated on my generation (I grew up in the 70s/80s, yeah I'm an Xer) was being told repeatedly, as early as grade school, that there were no new major scientific discoveries to be had, that we *knew basically everything worth knowing* and the only things left were pushing the margins of the impossibly vast and impossibly small in incremental, unimportant ways. I was *literally told this*--not just by teachers, but in books, in media, all over the damn place.

if I could travel back in time, I would give grade school me a copy of the latest Science News magazine laying around my house, and just say "look. this is what we *still don't know*. they're absolutely wrong; there is so much still to learn. don't let them stifle you. by the way: DINOSAUR FEATHERS."

@troodon @starwall this reminds me of hwo einstein lost his job at the copyright in the late 1890s-1900s (?)

his boss had the same toxic thought process

@troodon @starwall Humans really are fragile, huh? Being just slightly out of our element can easily mean disaster.

@starwall Darin ist es heiss und feucht. Es gibt einen Dokumentarfilm dazu. Ich hoffe, sie lassen nicht Tausende Besuchen pro Tag hinein. Das wäre das Ende. Ich dachte auch, dass die Höhle wieder geflutet würde.

@starwall hey that thing on the bottom right is incorrectly labeled

That’s a fucking demon from hell

@Ethancdavenport @starwall autocorrect seems to have done something to the phrase "precious long baby"

@carcinopithecus @starwall nah, nope

> underground, sealed away from surface for crimes against god
> thrives in noxious atmosphere
> chitinous hide
> way too many fuckin legs

It’s a demon. From hell.

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