09 August 2008

Traga Luz Grande – Un dia mas

Originally Drafted 07 August 2008

Moving through tight passage in Traga Luz Grande. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

Today, the entire team was at Cueva Traga Luz Grande. The mapping team continued their work. They are very close to finishing this cave. It appears the mapping team will have mapped two caves and at least three anomalies by the end of this expedition. Our mapping team has done an outstanding job. Not only have we developed new techniques for mapping cave volume, but this team has endured dusty cave after dusty cave – and the maps being developed thus far are great.

John in the process of down-climbing back into one of the many entrances of Traga Luz Grande. Credit: Dan Ruby

The sensor deployment team also spent the day at Cueva Traga Luz Grande. With Tim here, we need to take him through all of the caves and show him where the sensors have been deployed. This is a vitally important exercise because he is able to actually see the caves; he and I also have the opportunity to discuss sensor placement, and determine if we need to add more sensors to these features we are studying.

Taking notes in Traga Luz Grande. Credit: Tim Titus.

Overall, Tim concurred with my placement of sensors in Cueva Traga Luz Grande. He and I did determine that two side passages that were significantly warmer than the rest of the cave were likely buffered when compared to the rest of the cave, and we chose to sample within these two side passages more thoroughly.

Shots of the trucks looking out the main entrance of Traga Luz Grande. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

From a Mars perspective, this could be quite interesting. Could caves with multiple entrances and significant airflow still support sheltered environments within? By sampling these and other sheltered portions of Traga Luz Grande, as well as a few other caves in the Atacama we should have a better handle on the answer to this question.

Also, within the same side passage that contained water, we also found a rather large scapula wedged between two rocks. In addition to the scapula, we also observed old scat encrusted within the cave floors. It is likely both the scapula and the scat belong to a Lama species.

We also found what appeared to be pack rat-like midden activity in one of the cave anomalies near Traga Luz Grande. This is the first cave where I have observed this type of activity. In the southwestern United States, pack rack activity is quite common at the entrance through twilight zone of caves. In Africa, the hyrax tends to fill this niche. I am not certain what animal forms middens in South America, but it was definitely like a pack rat. What I observed was not extensive activity, but I observed scat that was Netoma-esque (i.e., packrat), and there was vegetation in association with the scat. What I found to be most interesting is there is very little vegetation in the surrounding area near the cave. Thus, it is quite possible this material is old. How old? I have no idea.

Yes! Another beautiful salt landscape. This image was captured as a front was moving through the region. We have been quite fortunate in that we have observed several cloud-filled days in the Atacama. Credit: Pete Polsgrove.

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