09 August 2008

Return to Cueva Palacio de Sal

Originally Drafted 08 August 2008

Licancabur recieves a dusting of snow. Credit: Dan Ruby.

Today, we returned to Cueva Palacio de Sal. Initially, I had decided not to sample within this cave. This cave contains five entrances and is connected to a canyon segment. This canyon segment does have some rock over the ceiling, but essentially contains more skylights and open air than cave.

A view skyward from one of the skylights of Cueva Palacio de Sal.

This is the cave Rolando had initially recommended to the mapping team. I think the language barrier was working against us here, and as a result, the mapping team thought this was a two entrance cave. As a result, they began to map this cave, and we began to deploy sensors. When I found the three other entrances and the leaky sieve of a canyon passage, I opted to pull sensors and nix this as a study site. I simply did not think we would have enough sensors, so I was attempting to be judicious in how they were placed and where. Well, we ultimately ran low on the number of caves we wanted to sample, and we found that Traga Luz Grande -- the largest cave in the Cordillera de los Andes -- was a big leaky sieve. So, we decided it would be interesting to study a big leaky sieve cave and a small leaky sieve cave.

Hanging precariously after deploying a sensor. I'm wedged between two large boulders with about 25 feet of open air below me. Credit: Tim Titus.

Our plan was to deploy sensors in this cave. As we were about to hike into this cave, one of the CONAF officials approached us. He indicated that he knew where another cave was located. So, Pete, Lynn and Tim went with him, while I went on to Cueva de Palacio de Sal.

I had to call into the Planetary Society’s Radio show for an interview to discuss our expedition. The interview went really well and is scheduled to air on 18 August.

Once I was done, I began deploying sensors at this cave. I deployed all of my sensors and then realized it was 1430hr. So, I radioed the rest of my group to figure out what was taking them so long. I ultimately got in touch with Tim, and indicated that we needed to get to work on this cave. They ultimately arrived and we spent the rest of the day deploying sensors.

This is a really interesting cave. Much like my observations at Traga Luz Grande, I’ve found that despite the fact that many of these caves contain multiple entrances and skylights there are sheltered environments within. We found a small room near one of the entrances of Cueva de Palacio de Sal was completely sheltered. You had to down climb a segment of a tight passage, then the passage elbowed at ~90 degrees and then you had to negotiate a large boulder to get into to this room.

From a Mars perspective, this reinforces the possibility that even “leaky” caves may contain rooms/ passages within that may be sheltered environments. And if life ever evolved on Mars, these sheltered environments may very well contain evidence of extinct or extant lifeforms.

One of the entrances of Cueva de Palacio de Sal.

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