Explorers have discovered the deepest-known cave in Australia – and named it after a variant of the Covid virus.
The cave, christened the Delta Variant, reaches 1,315 feet (401 metres) in the Junee Florentine Karst area of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island.
Delta Variant is only slightly deeper than Australia’s previous record holder, the Niggly Cave, which is 1,302 feet (397 metres) deep and is located in the same cave system.
However, neither compare to the deepest-known cave in the world – Veryovkina Cave in Abkhazia, Georgia, which reaches 7,257 feet (2,212 metres).
An elite team of nine cavers from the Southern Tasmanian Caverneers set a new record for the deepest cave in Australia at Tasmania’s Niggly and Growling Swallet cave system
Delta Variant is only slightly deeper than Australia’s previous record holder, the Niggly Cave, which is 1,302 feet (397 metres) deep and is located in the same cave system
HOW DO CAVES FORM?
Caves form when flowing water slowly dissolves rock over a long time, explains Gabriel C Rau, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia.
Specifically, they form within certain geological formations called ‘karst’ – which includes structures made of limestone, marble and dolomite.
‘Karst is made of tiny fossilised microorganisms, shell fragments and other debris that accumulated over millions of years,’ he said.
‘Long after they perish, small marine creatures leave behind their “calcareous” shells made of calcium carbonate.
‘This calcareous sediment builds up into geological structures that are relatively soft. As water trickles down through crevices in the rock, it continuously dissolves the rock to slowly form a cave system.’
The so-called Delta Variant is connected to Tasmania’s Niggly and Growling Swallet cave system, northwest of Hobart, Tasmania’s capital.
At At 1,315 feet, it’s the equivalent of three Sydney Harbour Bridges or four of London’s Elizabeth Towers on top of each other.
An elite team of cavers from the Southern Tasmanian Caverneers discovered the cave after 14 hours underground and following six months of preparation.
The team entered the cave about 11am local time last Saturday (July 30) and emerged at about 1.30am on Sunday.
‘I was definitely nervous, you feel aware of your own mortality,’ team member Ciara Smart said.
‘Although you know you’re safe, it’s very intimidating and the sound as well – it’s a constant roar of the waterfall. You can’t hear anything above your own breath, it’s scary at times.’
According to the explorers, the cave was named after a Covid variant ‘to remind future cavers of contemporary events’.
Portions of the cave were even named after different Covid-related terminology, including ‘Test Station Queue’, ‘Super Spreader’ and ‘Daily Cases’, the ABC reports.
The explorers faced challenging conditions underground, partly because of high water levels due to recent snowfall in the Australian winter.
‘The cave was exceptionally strenuous,’ caver Ben Armstrong said.
‘An exhausting expedition’: The explorers celebrate when they reach the bottom of the Delta Variant, Australia’s deepest known cave
The explorers faced challenging conditions underground, partly because of high water levels due to recent snowfall in the Australian winter
‘It was extremely vertical, requiring hundreds of metres to be ascended and descended on ropes.’
The cave lies metres away from the entrance to the Niggly and Growling Swallet cave system.
It includes the Niggly Cave, discovered in 1994, which was previously the country’s deepest known cave.
Gabriel C Rau, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Environmental and Life Sciences, said the Delta Variant is just an ‘appetiser in the wider world of caves’.
‘I’m sure there are small spaces, too snug for us to explore, that open into much longer or bigger systems than we’ve ever discovered,’ he wrote for The Conversation.
Pictured, a cave explorer in Tasmania’s Niggly Cave, Australia’s previous record holding cave for depth
CAVER TRAPPED UNDERGROUND IS RESCUED ALIVE AFTER THREE-DAY MISSION
A seriously injured caver who was left stranded in a 900ft-deep cave system beneath the Brecon Beacons after plunging from a 50ft ledge was dramatically rescued last November.
The man in his 40s was pulled out of the caves in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu by a team of rescuers.
Working in 12-hour shifts, some 250 workers moved the man out of the cave system on a stretcher.
After being lifted to the surface he was clapped and cheered by rescuers before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance.
The operation, which has taken 57 hours and spanned three days, marked the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales.
Nearly 250 emergency responders – including the team who saved 12 young Thai footballers in 2018 – were painstakingly transporting the injured man on a stretcher through narrow caverns interspersed with gushing streams and waterfalls.