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Inside the ice caves of Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier, in the northwest of the United States, is an episodically active volcano rising to 4,392 meters at its summit. This little-known, high alpine glacier-fumarole cave system provides a unique opportunity for scientific study. In 2015, an expedition was organized to explore and map the labyrinth of ice caves below the summit.

MARCH 2016

La sortie des grottes de glace du cratère Est ©Francois-Xavier De Ruydts

Exiting East Crater Cave with camp in the background

Below Mount Rainier’s impressive glaciers lie two twin craters. Numerous fumaroles send steam and gas up from the rocky crater base, slowly sculpting the ice. In August 2015, an international team of scientists, cavers and technical rescue personnel explored this unique and extreme environment. Surrounded by ice, vapors and toxic gases, the team studied and collected data on the geology, climate, and microorganisms that manage to survive in these harsh conditions.

Fumaroles send steam and gas up from the rocky crater base ©Francois-Xavier De Ruydts

Fumaroles send steam and gas up from the rocky crater base

The expedition had two main objectives: first, to study life forms at extreme temperatures, which may provide information about life on other planetary ice bodies; and second, to create a map of the cave system to aid the rescue community in the event of an in-cave rescue. It is hoped that the map will also help climbers find these natural shelters when they need them. Each year, over 5,000 climbers attempt the Mount Rainier summit.

Dr. Lee Florea and Tabby Cavendish collect sediment samples near Adelie Lake (background) in the East Crater Cave of Mt Rainier ©Francois-Xavier De Ruydts

Dr. Lee Florea and Tabby Cavendish collect sediment samples near Adelie Lake (background) in the East Crater Cave of Mt Rainier

German team taking temperature readings in Lake Adele ©Francois-Xavier De Ruydts

German team taking temperature readings in Lake Adele

Inside the ice caves of Mount Rainier ©Francois-Xavier De Ruydts


Researcher Tabby Cavendish says:

Tabby Cavendish, chercheuse ©Francois-Xavier De Ruydts « I am excited to be a part of this project and believe in what we are doing - acting as liaison between summit and science, between danger and safety, between ignorance and protection. We hope that our findings and publications will serve to protect this amazing resource. We are so appreciative of the funding we received this year from the Petzl Foundation. »


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Uploaded in March 2016


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