Please read the information on Ohio Caverns below and click on the highlighted activity number to download the activity.
Note: All activities are in MS-Word format. When prompted click save. Activities are property of Ohio Caverns, Inc. to be used for educational purposes only. Any other use is prohibited. Ohio Caverns, Inc. is not liable for any injury or property damage resulting from these activities. We hope, through these activities, the students will learn the importance and fragility of cavern environments.
Thousands of years ago, the area around the Ohio Caverns was covered by water. When the plants and animals living in this sea died, they fell to the bottom. Over time, these plants and animal skeletons were pressed and cemented into a rock called limestone. Later, the limestone was lifted from the sea by the same force that built the mountains of the world. When the fresh rain falls and passes through the soil, it reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid. The carbonic acid then reacts with minerals in the limestone, as well as dissolving the limestone itself, creating passageways surrounded by undissolved rock. (Activity #1)
If the water table lowers, or if the surface above the cave becomes worn away, the system becomes open to air. The water seeping through the limestone carries with it tiny bits of dissolved rock and minerals. When the water encounters an open cavity, left by the receding water, it begins to evaporate, allowing the dissolved matter to solidify. Over thousands of years, the layers of minerals build into formations. This is how speleothems are formed. Stalactites are found hanging from the ceiling, while stalagmites grow from the floor up, the result of excess water and minerals dripping from the stalactites. Speleothems can differ in shape and color depending on the mineral composition. The most common mineral formations in limestone caves and caverns are made of calcium carbonate of limestone, or calcite. However, if iron oxide (rust) combines with the calcite, the formations may be given an orange tint. Likewise, manganese dioxide causes the formations to appear slightly blue. (Activity #2)
The formation of speleothems is a very slow process. The environment of caves and caverns is very humid. However, the temperature is usually very mild. For example, the temperature inside Ohio Caverns remains 54° F throughout the year, while the humidity is constantly above 90%. These conditions do not promote rapid evaporation of water. At Ohio Caverns, the growth rate is approximately 1 cubic inch every 500-1,000 years. The humidity is very important to the cave environment, keeping it wet and allowing formations to grow. During wet years, the mud floor will store the water. In dry years, the water in the mud will evaporate once again, keeping the environment humid. (Activity #3 | Activity #4 | Activity #5)
It is very important that visitors to any cave or cavern refrain from touching any of the formations. Many formations are very fragile and will break very easily. Since it took thousands of years to form each speleothem, it would also take thousands of years for the broken formation to grow back. Oil and dirt from people’s hands can also damage the formations, not only by changing the color, but also by forming a barrier to the water. The oil causes the water to run off the formation too fast to allow minerals to be deposited, so they will not be able to grow. (Activity #6)
People who explore caves and caverns are known as spelunkers. There are safety rules that each spelunker should follow. First, no explorer should go into a cave or cavern alone. Even with a friend, a person outside the cave should be notified as to where the cavers will be. This way, if the spelunkers have not returned after a long period of time, rescuers will know where to search. Another rule is that every spelunker should have the proper equipment. Since caves are often cold and wet, gloves and boots are often necessary. Crawling over sharp rocks can be painful if an explorer does not have knee and elbow pads. In larger caves and caverns, ropes and harnesses may also be required. However, the most important pieces of equipment of any caving expedition are flashlights and helmets. Helmets protect the wearer from serious head injuries in addition to providing a light source in the form of a headlamp. Each explorer should also carry two flashlights, for a total of three sources of light. (Activity #7)
Because it is a cavern, nothing has ever lived in Ohio Caverns. Caverns are sealed off from the surface, but caves have natural openings, allowing people and animals to use them for shelter. Many different types of animals can live in caves, and most of them have developed specific adaptations that make them better able to live in the dark, damp environment. For example, a bat’s echolocation allows it to maneuver through the dark passageways. Some caves have blind fish living in them. They have no use for eyes in total darkness, so they evolved to grow without them.
Special thanks to Lisa Smith for putting this information together!
For additional educational information, please visit Earth's Changing Surface and How Caves Form.