Nature is full of beauty and grace. From the deepest oceans to the highest mountains, there is no shortage of places to explore. Of course, many times the most gorgeous destinations are not visited just for their aesthetic appeal, but rather to advance scientific research. A pair of glacier explorers recently paid a visit to one such a place. The destination: Snow Dragon Cave.
Unless you have been involved in some serious exploration projects, it is unlikely you have seen anything quite like the Snow Dragon Cave. After entering through a moulin -an icy pit that allows for descent into the caves- you will feel like you have entered an entirely new world. Snow Dragon, along with its two other caves Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur, make for one of the largest (possibly the largest) glacier cave systems found in the contiguous 48 states.
Though there is likely no substitution for seeing these caves first hand, they can be best classified as something you might see in a science fiction movie. As the glacier melts, the cave walls form into breathtaking foundations, giving visitors a truly unique exploration experience. Despite the loud sound of rushing water going through the caves, the entire scene brings with it a certain feeling of peace and tranquility.
Discovered in 2011, Snow Dragon and two other caves are being explored by a pair of highly qualified surveyors, Brent McGregor and Eddy Cartaya. With around 80 lbs. of gear in their backpacks, these two pioneers descend into the caves to measure changes each year. They have been surprised to discover how quickly the ice levels are decreasing. Both have commented on how important it is to draw upon both their mountaineering and cave exploration experience in searching this cave.
One of the things that really sets this exploration project apart is that it is being used to measure the melting ice levels. Using the glacier caves, McGregor and Cartaya are able to actually see how much mass is being lost over time, which can help them to predict long-term changes in the ice levels. Normally, glaciologists (scientists that study glaciers) study mass balance of these formations. They use surface or satellite measurements to determine how much is being lost each year. One such scientist, Andrew Fountain, commented how he had never seen anything quite like this.
In reality, studying this sort of loss from the inside is a truly novel idea and one that may prove to be popular in the future.