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Description popularizing the research project
Half-light gradually deepening into darkness, high humidity, dripping and trickling water, steady temperature of about 4°C - these are the conditions of a typical, schoolbook cave. Standard caves, which deserve mentioning in literature, are also richly decorated with speleothems i.e. cave formations. Even non-speleologists know the basic elements: stalactites, stalagmites, stalagnates. The names of less obvious details are often forgotten after graduating from school, but one guided visit to a tourist cave revises the glossary, and the view of draperies and cave pearls makes them unforgettable. Many of us have gone spelunking as amateurs or tourists and we are familiar with the view of karst forms created as the cave minerals dissolve and crystallise.
Comprehensive research of mineral formations, created when water solutions freeze in caves of high-altitude cold zones and periglacial areas, i.e. formation of underground glaciers, was conducted in 2001-2013 at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Silesia. Process of freezing of aqueous solutions is usually accompanied by so-called cryochemical processes or chemical transformation of the solutions under the influence of decreasing temperature and changes in the form of water (transformation of liquid into ice). Water solutions, circulating in the cave environment, are characterized by increased mineralization (up to 2-3 g/l) due to active processes of dissolving the surrounding rocks. During the freezing process a gradual crystallization of the solution takes place. Ice is crystallized first, and then - due to gradual super- saturation of the solution - crystallization of various minerals takes place. Large-scale mineralogical studies with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), made it possible to discover the amazing mineralogical diversity of cave ice and the beauty of the world of cryominerals.