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
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 patterns.
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
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 worldwide.
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.