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The Mysterious Life of Caves (#2910)

Exploring Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, geologists Carol Hill and Dave Jagnow stumbled across a startling find - giant blocks of a mineral that conventional theories said shouldn't be there. This discovery set them on the trail of a radically new explanation of how certain caves form, involving microbes that live off toxic hydrogen sulfide gas and literally eat away the rock (since one of their byproducts is sulfuric acid). At the time of Hill and Jagnow's initial investigations, the idea that microbes could flourish in total darkness and help etch huge underground caverns was revolutionary. The quest to prove the theory has led scientists to the depths of some of the world's most spectacular caverns, including the more than 100-mile maze of passages in Lechuguilla, New Mexico, the longest and deepest cave known in the Americas, and the site of dazzling calcite and crystal formations. NOVA's crews, among the few admitted to this fragile and pristine underground wilderness, captured spectacular footage. Eventually the theory was confirmed at the bizarre Cueva de Villa Luz in Mexico, where the walls are dripping with sulfuric acid strong enough to burn human skin. This story of a hidden world of underground life and scientists with a maverick theory is a classic NOVA: a provocative idea, involving an adventure of discovery to some of the world's most spectacular locations. [56 minutes] Closed Captioning

This episode has not aired in the past few months on Iowa Public Television.

PBS Video

Information For Teachers

Grade Levels
6-8, 9-12
Curricular Areas
Science & Technology
Series Length
440 episodes
Average Episode Length
61 minutes
Record Rights
Record and retain for 1 year from each broadcast. No duplication allowed.
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Series Description: PBS' premier science series helps viewers of all ages explore the science behind the headlines. Along the way, NOVA programs demystify science and technology and highlight the people involved in scientific pursuits.

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