Glacier caves are giant feedback loops that involve all these disciplines of science - climatology, geomorphology, geochemistry, and microbiology. The caves not only react to climate, they also also react to geothermal input from fumaroles buried under the ice. By regularly surveying the volume of glacier caves, we hope to identify the individual influences of climate and geothermal activity. We want to develop a new way to use the ice-mass balance of glacier caves to monitor changes in the hydrothermal / geothermal activity of these active volcanoes.
Volcanic gases can also affect the chemistry of rock, water and ice. The chemically-altered rock can affect the structural stability of these mountains by transforming into unstable clay-like material. This condition can cause massive collapses and debris flows (called lahars) with little warning because these events aren't necessarily associated with eruptive activity. That means geochemical data might help predict potential lahars on these volcanos. This is all new, so we’re still working on how our data might help provide early warning signs to mountain communities.
Extremophiles (extreme life forms) rely on the cave environment to make a living in novel ways... such as by metabolizing magmatic gases or chemically breaking down rock. This type of study can then 'feed' astrobiology research.
Documenting These Relationships
Based on our surveys, we generate 3-dimensional maps that provide context for the scientific data by showing locations of all physical collections and readings. Data from the different disciplines can be studied in relation to each other, and we can obtain comparative data over the years.