Climatic changes are being investigated by monitoring environmental conditions in caves using temperature data loggers, while a drip counter based on a Tinytag count logger investigates the relationship between rainfall and the formation of stalagmites.
Prof. Dave Mattey of the Department of Earth Science, Royal
Holloway, University of London, is using Tinytags to measure
climatic changes by monitoring inside caves.
We are all aware of the uncertainties regarding the future of
the Earth's climate systems. Weather forecasting can be rather
imprecise and predicting the future behaviour of global weather
patterns rests on computer models that rely on meteorological data
and an understanding of what drives weather systems. However,
meteorological records only stretch back a century or so, and our
understanding of how the global climate systems interact and change
is far from complete.
Geologists are researching new ways to use chemical records in
rocks and fossils to monitor climate change in great detail, which
will lead to improved predictions of future changes. One of these
chemical records can be found in caves in the form of stalagmites
that grow from water that has fallen as rain. Stalagmite 'weather
stations' can be accurately dated and steadily grow in a stable
undisturbed environment for many tens of thousands of years and are
turning out to be very valuable archives of past weather
Professor Dave Mattey of the Department of Earth Science, Royal
Holloway, University of London, is using Tinytag data loggers to
measure the subtle changes in the environment inside the cave that
occur over many years. He is leading research focussed on how
changing weather above the cave affects the growth of stalagmites
and the chemical 'memory' preserved in the stalagmite of the
rainfall, outside temperature and the type of vegetation. Using
rugged Tinytag Plus
2 data loggers, measurements are made in many locations inside
and outside the cave at hourly intervals, giving unprecedented
levels of detail.
Caves provide a very harsh environment where 100% humidity can
cause relentless corrosion and instrument failure due to damp and
condensation. Caves are often remote, with no power, and have
difficult access, requiring rugged instruments that will provide a
reliable data over long time periods. The battery powered Tinytag temperature
loggers have proved very reliable in measuring seasonal changes
in air and rock temperatures inside caves and also in the overlying
soil where they have been buried at different depths for up to a
year before data is downloaded.
Another area of interest is the relationship between rainfall
and the formation of stalagmites. Research has focussed on the time
taken for groundwater saturated in calcium carbonate to penetrate
through the soil and bedrock into the cave. If the cave starts
dripping soon after a period of rainfall then the stalagmite
'weather station' records day to day changes in climate; if the
dripping takes a long time to build up, or just remains constant
all year round then the 'weather station' is recording more gradual
changes, smoothing out the day-to-day variations.
The research team has developed a unique logging drip counter,
the 'Stalagmate' (pictured), which is based on a Tinytag count
logger and a sensor built into a waterproof box that is placed on
top of stalagmites to show precisely how drip rates respond to
rainfall. The Stalagmate is commercially available and large
numbers are now in use in caves and for groundwater research
Cave and climate research using Tinytag data loggers has been
carried out in Europe, India and the south Pacific. The Tinytag
count loggers have proved their worth despite the appalling
treatment they are sometimes subjected to! Other than a battery
change every year or so, they have worked reliably in humid caves,
buried in soil, and sometimes submerged in water and returned data
without any problems.
Dave Mattey is Professor of Geochemistry at Royal Holloway,
University of London and has been director of the Stable Isotope
Facilities since 1989. He leads research into cave science and
climate reconstruction in Europe, India and the Pacific.