Spelunking Trip

Due to weather and illness, the spelunking trip was postponed and moved to another location closer to campus.

The several (3-5) hour round trip spelunking expedition will be led by Prof. Jenn Macalady near the town of Renick, WV, about 1.5 hours from the dorms at Green Bank:

The caving won’t involve any ropes or training,  just walking/scrambling. There will be a one-hour hike to the cave entrance, and we will emerge back at the parking area. Current forecast for Renick on Saturday morning is high 20s and 100% chance of snow. That means you need to add a warm hat and an extra non-cotton layer

Temperature inside cave will be about 12 °C  = 54°F

All participants in the caving trip will need:

  • boots, gloves, and clothes that can get muddy (gloves should be “tactile and grippy”, not thick and leathery or insulated; plastic coated gardening gloves are good).
  • warm hat and extra non-cotton layer for the hike portion (which needs to be something you can carry through the cave.)
  • non-cotton base layer (top and bottom)
  • water bottle
  • energy bar/similar food item (small and dense, not pure sugar. Jerky, cheese, power bar, etc. Best if it can’t be crushed or spoiled by getting wet 🙂
  • Helmet with secondary light (instructor will supply)
  • headlamp and change of batteries (instructor will supply)
  • cave rucksack (instructor will supply)

If you can’t or can’t afford to acquire any of the above gear let the instructor know as soon as possible so that we can find gear you can borrow.

If there is any reason you cannot participate in the caving, let the instructor know as soon as possible.

For a taste of what we’re in for, click here.

Searching for Extant Life

The purpose of our life search experiment is to determine whether the possibility for extant life exists on the surfaces of a subterranean environment. To do this, we will be investigating several different energy utilization channels known to be used by life on Earth. We intend to quantify the ΔG of various electron transfer reactions.

Some conditions of the experimental environment can be assumed:

  • Elemental oxygen is likely to be in the ambient atmosphere and any water that is found is likely to be well oxygenated.
  • Temperatures will be around the annual mean temperature (~50° F)
  • The pH of the water should be near neutral.

These features could be affected by unexpected environmental conditions such as nearby leakage of carbon, petroleum, or hydrocarbons. We do not expect to see obvious extant life in the cave. If it is there, we will avoid it to get something valuable from this experience.

Elemental oxygen is an excellent electron acceptor for electron transfer reactions, so our efforts will be focused on finding suitable electron donors for energy-releasing reactions. Some examples include organic carbon, nitrogen/ammonium, sulfur/pyrite, manganese, and hydrogen gas.

For this experiment, we are taking several (around 10) samples of standing water around the cave and analyze them to find their carbon, sulfur, ammonia, iron, and magnesium contents. The sulfur, ammonia, iron, and magnesium will be measured in situ using samples analyzed with the spectrophotometer while the non-purgeable organic carbon (NPOC) will be measured by an outside lab. In addition to these, the pH, oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), and conductivity of the sample sites will be measured with multimeter probes. The ORP is measured to ensure that the oxygenation assumptions are valid, and the conductivity measurements will indicate whether the water sampled has a shared origin.

One member of the team will oversee sample collection, one member will be running the spectrophotometer analyses and the final two members will perform all of the multimeter probe tests.