Researchers to explore Mount Rainier ice cave

"These caves are an extreme environment for life," geologist Lee Florea said.

By Brooks Hays

TACOMA, Wash., July 21 (UPI) -- A team of geologists from Germany and the United States are preparing to spend several days exploring life inside an ice cave on Mount Rainier, Washington State's massive (and occasionally active) stratovolcano.

A complex system of caves has been carved from the glaciers that fill Ranier's two craters as ice-melting geothermal heat from below ebbs and flows. The Mount Rainier Fumarole Cave Project will see scientists enter and study one of Rainier's unique caves for just more than a week.


During their time there, researchers will measure ice loss and study the communities of microorganisms that manage to survive in the harsh environment.

"Rainier has been closely studied over several decades, and this will be an expansion of some preliminary work in these ice caves," Lee Florea, a geologist from Ball State University, explained in a press release. "First, we are going to look at the volume of ice in the crater and how it may have changed in the last few years."

Florea will be joined by scientists from New Mexico Tech and Germany's Ruhr-University Bochum. In addition to studying the possible effects of global warming on the continental United States' largest glaciers, researchers will look for insights into how life might subsist in environs similar to those found on Mars and the icy moons of gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter.


"These caves are an extreme environment for life," Florea said. "If we are to go to Europa and other ice covered moons -- where many scientists believe life could exist -- we need to examine our planet to determine how life could exist and under what conditions."

Florea is his colleagues are currently doing weight, cardio and altitude training to prepare for their trip, scheduled for August 13 to 22.

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