"It seems like walking into an oven. You're hit by the heat and humidity, it's simply unimaginable, it sticks to your skin. You go in fighting temptation to go back out again, while your body sweats, in desperate search of refrigeration. You cross the forest of crystals, lying there inclined and felled. They are white and opaque, they seem to be ice. The sight takes your breath away, and mixes in with the boiling air you force down into your lungs. Your inside a gigantic geode but you've got to be quick. The environment is so hostile you can only stay in there for a couple of minutes, you can't enjoy the sight for long... ."
This is how Antonio De Vivo, the caver of the Associazione Geografica La Venta", describes the incredible cavern "La Grotta dei Cristalli" located deep within the Naica mine in Chihuahua, Mexico. In January 2006 "Speleoresearch & Films" and the Team la Venta, a group which comprises cavers and researchers who have explored much of our planet, started a three year exploration campain to discover this natural wonder.
The team will discover and document the gigantic crystals which have formed 300m beneath the earth's surface. These cyrstals, which are the largest ever seen before, are conserved in a moon-like environment at circa 48°C. Due to the temperature and humidity the researchers will use specially designed suits to carry out their research. This is the only way to penetrate this "other world", to discover how nature, once again, manages to amze us with her uncomprehensible perfection.
NAICA'sS CRYSTALS CAVE
Naica’s Crystals Cave, maybe the most amazing underground wonder on Earth, was discovered by chance inside the deep mine of Naica, in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico.
It is a true geode: a cave completely covered with transparent selenite crystals (that is extremely pure gypsum), some of which are more than 12 m in length and by far the biggest ones in the world.
They are astonishing structures; that seem to deny the unceasing trend of the Universe toward disorder, disintegration, and chaos. On the other hand, Naica’s macrocrystals show that, similarly to what happens on the surface as regards life, also happens deep in the Earth where some processes take place, tending to create ordered structures. The matter now is to understand how this can happen.
In order to do this one needs to get inside the cave, and this is not easy: a temperature of approximately 48° C and the air saturated with humidity represents a situation similar to being ‘cooked in a steamer’, an environment in which man can survive only a few minutes.
In January 2006 the geographical association La Venta, an international team of cavers and researchers who have carried out successful explorations in several areas of the planet, from Antarctica to central Asia, was entrusted by the Peñoles mining company, sole licensee of the mine, to implement a research project on the cave for the next three years. Not only in this particular cave but also in several similar caves which were found in the same mine and still totally unexplored.
The field research will last for three years and will be structured into distinct phases, in collaboration with Italian, Mexican, Spanish, and US research institutions and thanks also to the support of several sponsors.
The technological key of the “Crystals Cave” Project is the need to remain safely and for a long time inside these alien environments. In order to achieve this goal specially conditioned suits have been designed and produced, registered by La Venta, permitting a stay of up to two hours in the cave; this will allow the possibility to carry out exploration, research and conservation activities. A true “space” adventure, although here on our old planet Earth.
The “Crystals Cave” Project
The aim of the three year project is to carry out a multidisciplinary research on the cave aimed at covering distinct fields of interest and allowing its conservation.
The infernal environment and the presence of the crystals has required the development of specific equipment and technology, ranging from refrigerated suits to “crystal-friendly” boots, in order to guarantee a long, safe stay in the cave for researchers of different disciplines: geology, mineralogy, biology, exobiology, physics, caving, medicine.
There are many questions for which we will try find answers.
How and why such big crystals could form? How long ago? Is there any kind of life in this extreme, apparently extraterrestrial, environment? If some forms of life do exist, did they play a role in the formation of the crystals and the surrounding mineralization? Man has unwillingly interrupted the millenary equilibrium that existed between deep waters and rocks, at the base of the creation of these wonders: what is going on in this place now? How stable are the crystals? How long will they last? How does human physiology behave in this kind of environment?
But the most important question of all is: is there a way we can conserve Crystals Cave for future generations while at the same time allowing this wonder of nature be known to the world?
The field research schedule is structured into several short missions and two longer expeditions, the first of which will take place in December 2006.
It is a great responsibility to let the world know about such a unique place.
The Mexican C/Producciones has produced films for some of the world’s most important TV networks in some of the most remote places on Earth, and they are confident they can make a great documentary here too. The research project will be followed and narrated step by step by a team of professionals chosen from amongst the best in the field of documentary production.
We aim to obtain the highest quality now available using modern and sophisticated shooting and photographic technology, adapting them to the extreme conditions of the environment: the result will be the story of this cave and of the men who discovered and explored it.
Crystals Cave will be mapped by means of laser-scanner devices in order to obtain 3-D images and eventual virtual reality trips. Trips which may become real inside physical replicas of the cave; maybe the only way to visit once it is no longer accessible due to the end of mining activities.
The amazing transparent forest that rises into the darkness of this cave represents something unique on Earth, something nobody has ever seen before and that nobody thought could exist.
There are still many unanswered questions on the origin of the great crystals, but some data is already available. They formed underwater when the cave was still below the local water table. The mining activity, which developed to increasingly deeper levels, led over the years to the progressive pumping of the deep waters; around 15 years ago, this pumping drained the cave level, 300 m deep into the mountain.
At the present time the minerals are extracted 400 m below the cave level, and in order to maintain activities in this area the Peñoles Company pumps to the surface around 1000 l/sec of water at a temperature of 59° C. This explains the high temperature of the underground environments and makes the experimental research on the refrigerated suits eventually useful for the work and the safety of the miners, here as in other mines of the world.
When the mine stops working, and it won’t be long before this happens, the pumps will be turned off and in a short time Crystals Cave will revert to its original condition. What remains of its unique and extraordinary beauty will be nothing more than what the explorers are able to discover and tell, illuminating it for just a short instant of its life.
Associazione Culturale Esplorazioni Geografiche La Venta
Via Priamo Tron, 35/f
31100 Treviso Italia
www.laventa.it - firstname.lastname@example.org
grafica e impaginazione Paolo Petrignani
foto Giovanni Badino
Università di Bologna - Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra e Geologia
Università di Trieste - Dipartimento di Geologia
Universidad de Almer“a (Espa–a) - Dipartimento di Idrogeologia e Chimica Analitica
Universidad Autonoma de México - Istituto di Astronomia, Istituto di Geologia,
Istituto di Biologia, Grupo Speleologico
New Mexico University (USA)- Dipartimento di Geologia
Società Speleologica Italiana
Club Alpino Italiano
Associazione Culturale Esplorazioni Geografiche La Venta
photo: The crystal cave - Naica (ph Copyright La Venta / Speleoresearch & films)