Caving in Carlton

The School of Earth Sciences has recently completed a new display case in the front lobby of the McCoy building. The museum-styled display showcases the novel research into cave science conducted at the University of Melbourne, led by Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Jon Woodhead.

Jon’s team are world leaders in speleothem science. Speleothems are calcium carbonate formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones, inside caves. They form as water dissolves minerals and soil during its downward descent to the water table. If this mineral-rich water encounters an open underground cavern, it deposits the calcium carbonate and forms a speleothem. In addition to the natural beauty of these grand subterranean halls, speleothems preserve a record of the past climate, similar to ice cores and ocean sediments.

To engage people with this type of research, PhD students John Engel and Rieneke Weij opted to create a museum styled installation. To recreate the feeling of being in a cave, speleothem samples collected during fieldwork trips were laid out in a natural orientation (stalactites holding tight to the ceiling and stalagmites reaching for the top). Upward lighting was used to recreate the excitement of using a helmet-torch while spelunking, and the background photo was selected to add depth to the display case. The cave scientists hope the display will attract new students to the School of Earth Sciences, by advertising the exciting science being conducted both in the field and the lab.

Find out more about speleothem research at the University.

The McCoy building is located on the corner of Swanston St and Elgin St. in Carlton.

By John Engel.