www.speleo-foto.de - Cave Photography by Max Wisshak
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Thematic Galeries

On this page, you'll find portfolios on various aspects related to karst & caves - a journey from the surface of karst landscapes, into the twilight zone in the entrance area of caves, to the dark zones with characteristic passage forms, the element water, the cave minerals calcite, aragonite, gypsum, ice, and finally weird cave dwelling fauna including us humans.


Karst Karst

Karst - the general term for mountain ranges with a fractured and soluble rock in the subsurface (limestone, dolomite, gypsum, etc.), in which water is able to corrode an underground pathway. The resulting shapes of corrosion comprise karren, scours, ridges and the like and are visible wherever the bedrock is exposed due to erosion of the thin layer of soil. Most conspicuous, however, are the large karst forms like dolines, abris, natural bridges - and of course cave entrances. Also with respect to flora and fauna, karstic landscapes are intriguing, for example by sheltering a diverse set of orchid species.

to the Karst Gallery

 

Daylight Twighlight

In the entrance areas of caves, daylight penetrates from the exterior and blends with the absolute darkness of the caves' interior. In this twilight zone we experience a transition from the familiar world with weather phenomena, a diurnal rhythm, colours, odours, sounds, diseases of civilisation, the consume machinery, and the obligatory dose of stress and sorrow, into a completely differing world with unique laws governed by rock and water. Our mode of movement and our perception of our surrounding changes markedly when venturing into this underground realm ...

to the Twilight Gallery

 

Raumformen Passages

The architecture of natural caves is diverse and ranges from large river caves to chessboard-like fissure labyrinths, to sponge-like three-dimensional maze systems. We encounter circular tubes, high fissure passages, sharply corroded corners, tight squeezes, cathedral-style halls and expanding vaults with scoured ceilings. These specific shapes of passages are the foundation for the unique character of each individual cave.

to the Passages Gallery

 

Schafts Schafts

Hardly surprising, cave passages were not formed to enable a comfortable horizontal mode of locomotion but quite often extend also in the vertical dimension. Thus the expression "like a spider on its silky thread" is probably the most commonly applied metaphor when describing a caver rappelling a rope towards the bottom of a vast shaft. With the aid of modern static ropes and special climbing gear, vertical caves of up to more than 2000 m total depth, and single drops of more than 500 meters have been explored.

to the Shafts Gallery

 

Water Water

Water is the life essence of caves. Not only is it responsible for the very formation of the caves via dissolution and transport of the bedrock, but it thereby also provides the dissolved minerals that crystallize elsewhere to form delicate speleothems. We encounter water in raging torrents of cave streams, roaring underground waterfalls, small droplets on the tips of soda straw stalactites, or in quiet basins and lakes. Hence, water is also the element that introduces both acoustic and movement into the otherwise silent and static realm of rock.

to the Water Gallery

 

Ice Ice

From the mineralogical point of view, ice is a mineral - the crystalline phase of hydrogen oxide. Just like calcite, ice is subject to dripstone formation in caves, where it forms stalagmites, stalactites, draperies and even helectites, quite reminiscent to the ones formed by calcium carbonate. During cold winter spells, we can observe "time-lapse" dripstone formation in the entrance areas of some caves. A transient decoration, vanishing as soon as temperatures rise again. In alpine caves, where temperatures are permanently below freezing, ice is able to build up large domes. Some caves are formed within ice, when melt water runoff dissolves its way towards and along the bottom of glaciers.

to the Ice Gallery

 

Calcite Calcite

When the limestone (chiefly calcite) of karstic mountain ranges is dissolved by the weakly acidic rain water, the dissolved carbonate species are the basis for the formation of diverse dripstone formations (speleothems) elsewhere in the cave. Calcite is the mineral with the highest number of known crystal shapes. This multiplies by the numerous types of different speleothems including not only the classic stalagmites and -tites, but also so-called soda straws, popcorn, draperies, basins with dogtooth spar, and the fascinating helectites - weird calcite formations which defy gravity in the presence of strong surface tension and capillary force.

to the Calcite Gallery

 

Aragonite Aragonite

Aragonite is the much rarer sibling of calcite with the very same chemical composition but forming a different crystal lattice and being devoid of magnesium. With respect to the morphological creativity, aragonite is most aptly called "totally screwed". The often purely white aragonite speleothems form bizarre helectites or needle aggregates. However, the fact that we find aragonite in caves still remains a partly unresolved scientific mystery, because its crystal lattice is regarded as metastable at the temperature and pressure conditions encountered in most caves.

to the Aragonite Gallery

 

Gypsum Gypsum

Apart from calcium carbonate, gypsum is the most common cave mineral. This applies particularly for caves that have formed by the so-called sulphuric acid speleogenesis which takes place where hydrogen sulphide emerging from hydrocarbon reservoirs gets in contact with groundwater rich in oxygen. When sulphuric acid dissolves limestone, gypsum is a product which then forms crusts, flowers, crystals, and in extreme cases even more weird speleothems like this spiral with a total of 42 whirls.

to the Gypsum Gallery

 

Colour Colour

The colour palette of speleothems is usually restricted to shades of brown, yellow, and pure white. However, in the (unfortunately rather rare) presence of trace elements such as copper, zinc, iron, and the like, other colours like pure moss green or deep blue come into play.

to the Colour Gallery

 

SEM SEM

Under the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) a micro world can be visualised, that is beyond the scale of familiar dimensions. Apparently unexciting speleothems, such as mould-like coatings on some cave walls, all of a sudden exhibit their true nature being composed of myriads of thin calcite needles only few thousands of a millimetre in diameter ...

to the SEM Gallery

 

Humans Humans

Since the cradle of mankind, caves have a prominent position in their cultures and religions as home of gods, abyss inhabited by monsters, realm of the undead, art galleries, or simply pragmatically as dry and warm places to hide during wintertime, or humid caverns for aging wines and cheese.

to the Humans Gallery

 

Troglobionts Troglobionts

We humans and the obligatory bats are by far not the only life forms which dare to enter caves or even permanently live within them. Biospeleology has recorded a wide spectrum of cave dwellers from microbial biofilms found on almost every cave wall to plate-sized cave spiders, or bizarre creatures like the olm or the "glowworms" - bioluminescent larvae of a fungus gnat endemic to Australia and particularly New Zealand which render the ceiling of river caves into a night sky with myriads of stars.

to the Troglobionts Gallery


Assistance:
Andy Armstrong, Hazel Barton, Stefanie Baumgärtner, Serge Delpech, Günther Forstmair, Jens Freigang, Peter Gedei, Oliver Gerstenberger, Norbert Häussermann,
Jörg Haußmann, Artur Hofmann, James Hunter, Christine + Herbert Jantschke, Leo Klimmer, Christian Klug, Angela + Stephan Lang, Achim Lehmkuhl, Vivian Loftin,
Matthias López Correa, Gaspard Magarinos, Peter Otto, Serge Nurit, Michel Renda, Dion Richards, Jens Römer, Phill Round, Dominik Ruepp, Patricia Seiser,
Andrew Smith, Nick Smith, Uta Sternbach, Rainer Straub, Leo Viersma, Werner Vogel, Peter Wisshak, Stefanie Wisshak, Elisabeth Wolf, Dawn Wood
Million thanks!

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