How are caves formed?

How are caves formed?
Credit: Unsplash

The development of cave systems means large amounts of limestone rock is removed from a landscape. Underground cavities are enlarged rock falls and form caves.

This is how long it takes to form cave stalactites and stalagmites

The word stalactites in Greek “σταλάσσω” means “drip, the one that drips”. Stalagmites are formed when the water containing dissolved calcium bicarbonate starts dripping from the ceiling of the cave.

The water, penetrating in the caves, dissolves the limestone by chemical reaction. As the water comes into contact with the air, a portion of calcium bicarbonate precipitates into limestone again to form a small ring, which is gradually extended to the formation of stalactites. Under certain conditions, a reaction occurs in the opposite direction and becomes a deposition of calcium carbonate-so the stalactites actually grow. This process is slow and takes tens and hundreds of years. The length of the stalactites in individual cases reaches several meters.

Limestone stalactites are formed extremely slowly-usually less than ten centimeters are formed in a thousand years. According to research, some of the entities date back more than 190 thousand years. Stalactites can also be formed through various chemical processes when water droplets become concrete. Concrete stalactites can grow faster and with more than one centimeter per year.

Stalagmites, unlike the stalactites, grow from the bottom up through the drops that fall to the floor. Stalagmites spread more in width, that is, they have a wider, flat shape than the stalagmites, but accumulate a mass of approximately the same size. Sometimes the two formations are sewn together by forming columns or curtains of various and bizarre forms. Stalactone is a calcite formation formed by the merger of Stalactites and Stalagmite.

Inside Earth

The gradual weathering of limestone rock by acidic water can create incredible cave systems. Over thousands of years, small caves steadily grow, creating huge caverns, while small cracks in the rock become large tunnels. When this lineup, huge interlinked networks are created, filled with thousands of stalactites. With the right safety equipment, these caves can be an exciting environment for people to explore.

Tham Hinboum cave in Laos has the world’s longest navigable underground river- it is over 7 km(4.5 miles) long.