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Once the layers have been dated, scientists can create a rough record of how ground water levels changed over the lifetime of the formation.Because speleothem growth is influenced by geography, ground water chemistry, and other factors, the record from one cave cannot serve as a record of climate change.Researchers determine the age of the rings using Uranium-Thorium radioisotopic dating, and examine ring thickness and oxygen isotopes to determine past climate.
A deep cavern dips into the New Mexico desert, shielding spiky icicle-like rocks that hang from the ceiling and the rounded columns that grow from the floor in a myriad of shapes.
One of the world’s largest underground chambers, the Carlsbad Cavern is resplendent in the intricate finery of the rock formations that form there.
Beyond their breath-taking beauty, the formations in Carlsbad and the more than 100 other caves in the area provide a record of rainfall in the southwestern United States.
Tucked away inside the Earth, the rocks are protected from the weathering and large-scale erosion that taints other land-based climate records.
The mineral deposits accumulate in the well-known icicle-shaped rock on the ceiling, a stalactite, and in a mound on the floor where the drip lands, a stalagmite.