Cave explorers from Colorado recently surveyed 594 feet in Wind Cave, bringing the total length of surveyed passages to 150 miles, according to a news release from Wind Cave National Park.
The cavers — Randy Macan, Shawn Lamley, Emma Paul and Janis Mankovs — surveyed 10 hours Saturday in the Half Mile Hall area of the cave.
Modern-day exploration began in the 1950s, with groups from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, the Colorado Grotto and the National Speleological Society. Since then, hundreds of individuals have crawled, climbed and squeezed through passages while exploring Wind Cave, making it the sixth-longest cave in the world.
“Cave exploration is a critical part of managing the cave because it’s hard to protect something you don’t know you have,” said Park Superintendent Vidal Dávila. “We’d like to thank all the individuals who, over the years, donated their time exploring this massive cave system.”
Most of the current cave exploration is done by volunteer club members from either the local Paha Sapa Grotto or the Colorado Grotto in Denver.
On average, 2 miles are surveyed annually, and it is estimated more than 3,000 leads, or unexplored openings, remain to be checked. Studies of airflow through the entrances reveal that potentially only 10 percent of the cave has been found.
Over 500 feet beneath the surface lies a series of cave lakes. Part of the Madison Aquifer, the first lake was discovered by Herb Conn and David Schnute in 1968.
Scientists from the University of Akron are studying the microbial life found in the lakes. Despite living in an environment with no sunlight or photosynthesis, the lakes contain a diverse bacterial community of more than 4,000 species, a large portion of which have never been identified and are unique to Wind Cave.