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Hypogene Caves Morphology - Europe/Australia Comparison

Final Report Summary - HYPOCAVE (Hypogene Caves Morphology - Europe/Australia Comparison)

The main objective of the HYPOCAVE project is to compare and contrast – for the first time – the karst caves from different hemispheres, in fragments of different supercontinents, from areas with different geology, geomorphology as well as present and past climate. The idea that these caves might have significant similarities is completely at odds with traditional views about the origin and evolution of karst caves. The project is based on the field and laboratory works conducted in the caves of the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland (Poland), Dinaric Karst (Slovenia), Rockhampton in Central Queensland and Jenolan Caves in New South Wales (Australia). All these karst areas were carefully selected and cannot be simply replaced by other ones – all the project's objectives and tasks are possible to accomplish only when the scientific activities are performed in exactly those particular places.

The exchange programme gave the European cave researchers the unique opportunity to study the hypogene (ascending) caves in carbonate rocks much older than studied before and differing in types of palaeokarst deposits as well as tectonic and climatic settings. The project reinforced long lasting collaboration between all Partners and allowed the HYPOCAVE team to play an important role in cave science. Another unique opportunity of the HYPOCAVE project is a better use of the background knowledge of experienced researchers and specialized laboratory infrastructure of the Partners. Widely understood collaboration between the project’s participants and partners from other countries – also outside the European Research Area – is one of the most important objectives of the HYPOCAVE. The project plays an important role in the international network of hypogene cave studies. It has also been one of the fundamental scientific impulses to establish a core project of the Karst Hydrogeology and Speleogenesis Commission of the International Union of Speleology – HypoKarst Project "Hypogene Karst & Speleogenesis: Nature, Processes, Mechanisms, Manifestations and Applications" (http://network.speleogenesis.info/directory/projects/hypogene.php).

The HYPOCAVE is about detailed fieldwork, multidisciplinary approaches and comparative study. Study areas of the three partner countries, as well as overview of the typical/active hypogene caves in Europe and North America, were all used for the general objectives of the project. Completing all scientific objectives based on joint researches of all Partners results with methodological guidance to the hypogene (ascending) cave studies and a better understanding of hypogene (per ascensum) speleogenesis in deformed strata.

The main scientific conclusions and results:

1/ The caves investigated in Europe, like those investigated in Australia, all displayed a high degree of structural guidance, exhibited a similar range of “hypogene” speleogens, except where modified by invading streams, were often situated in close proximity to regional faults and were frequently modified by breakdown from the cave walls, rather than from the cave ceiling. The relationship between the caves and regional faults at Wellington (NSW, Australia) was found to be similar to that in the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland (Poland). In both cases faults forms a flower structure fault zones promoting deep-seated fluid and gas migration to the surface. At Wellington there are still active hypogene processes in the caves, but in Krakow-Czestochowa Upland they were active in the past.

2/ Caves at Rockhampton (Queensland, Australia) and Wellington (NSW, Australia) were significantly modified by solution from bat excreta, resulting in a specific set of speleogens including pans, runnels and anti-bellholes. Very peculiar phosphatic deposits were found in Olsen’s Caves at Rockhampton. They are similar to those described from Jenolan and Wombyean Caves in New South Wales (Australia) Speleogens and minerals deposits formed from bat excreta also occur in the caves of Krakow-Czestochowa Upland (Poland). They are fossil and are part of the palaeokarstic features. Phosphatic crusts were discovered recently in several caves of this region. The importance of reshaping of the hypogene (ascending) cave morphology by bats was established. Hypogene caves, with their high cupolas and poor airflow make ideal habitats for bats, which enter such caves soon after initial entrances form and can deposit tens of meters of guano, filling the caves.

3/ One of the most relevant result of the project was to explain the relation between hypogene cave morphology, geochemistry and mineralogy of dedolomite host rock, regional and local geology with occurrence of sulphates and geochemistry of water from deep wells in the wider area of Rovte region (Slovenia). This discovery is novel for karst science (process has been not described before) and for the first time shows the complex origin of karst at the transition zone between Dinaric Karst and Alps. The study area is located in the zone of deep fault, parallel to the main Idrja Fault zone in the north part of Dinarides.

4/ Development of detailed mapping and documentation techniques dedicated to complex hypogene (ascending) caves studies – laser based equipment with electronic compass and high-resolution 3D photographic methods. Laser scanning of the cave space for detail research of its morphology and relation to structural guidance has been introduced. Recently this technique is developing in cave science.

Strengthen the existing research collaboration between the European and Australian Partners was the basic objective of the HYPOCAVE. This important task has been fully achieved. Additionally, the co-operation has been expanded to the wider spectrum of cave and karst scientific institutions all over the world. Well trained group of young researchers doing their multidisciplinary studies in European cave and karst research institutions is an important outcome of the project.

Training activities and seminars performed in frame of the project in Australia and Europe gave the opportunity to transfer the academic knowledge on the origin of caves, their fragility and potential interests for general public, to cave managers and show cave guides. They were focused on this target group to rise their competences enable further spread of knowledge to the general public – nature conservation authorities, local communities and tourists.