White Scar Caves

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Imagine a subterranean landscape, beautifully lit, with gushing streams and waterfalls, exotic cave formations, and a huge ice-age cavern adorned with thousands of stalactites.

The formations in White Scar Cave are of great variety, but they all depend on the same chemical process for their creation. The rainwater which trickles through the cracks and fissures in the limestone is acidic, because of the carbon dioxide dissolved in it from the atmosphere and the plant debris in the soil through which it has drained. It therefore attacks the limestone, taking some of it into solution as calcium bicarbonate.

Where the water seeps into a cave and comes into contact with air again, another chemical reaction takes place. Some of the carbon dioxide diffuses into the air, leaving the water less acidic and therefore able to hold less of the calcium bicarbonate. Some of this comes out of solution as a whitish mineral called calcite, which is a crystalline form of calcium carbonate. Black and grey discolouration of the calcite is due to traces of carbon and manganese. Red and yellow indicate the presence of iron.

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