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The world’s biggest ice cave needs to be seen to be believed

Want to see something super cool? Well you’ve come to the right place because this ice cave in Austria is the biggest in the world.

Eisriesenwelt is an ice cave dating back to the Tertiary Period, which is roughly 65 – 2.5 million years ago. Roughly. The cave, nestled in Austria’s Tennengebirge mountains above the town of Werfen, wasn’t discovered until 1879 by Anton Posselt, then re-discovered by Alexander von Mörk, an Austrian explorer, in 1912. Werfen is near the Austrian city of Salzburg (a definite must visit in itself!) and Mr von Mörk was part of a group called the Salzburg Cave Explorers, which is probably the most fun group to be part of.

The group probably knew they’d stumbled onto something special when they saw the massive caverns of ice and crystals, but it was the ongoing research over the last 150 years that let the world know how truly unique the discovery was, because Eisriesenwelt is the biggest ice cave in the world.

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Dr. Marc Luetscher and his assistant examine the layers in a thick bed of ice for samples of the extremely rare cryogenic calcite crystals inside Eisriesenwelt Eishöhle, Werfen (South Salzburg) in Austria. Mountain regions respond sensitively to climate change. Taking advantage of Alpine caves, a team of scientists led by Swiss Paleoclimatologist Dr. Marc Luetscher (@paleo_marc) from the Swiss Institute for Speleology and Karst Studies (SISKA), is working to understand how permafrost has evolved through time. Ice caves form through a combination of snow intrusion and/or congelation of water infiltrating a karst system. Often up to several centuries old, the climate record of this ice remains largely under-studied. Today we are also able to tell if a cave was an ice cave in the past. This is achieved by looking for cryogenic cave calcites. These form when water enters a cave, and freezes and turns to ice. In this process, the water becomes progressively enriched in ions to the point that it becomes super-saturated and precipitates calcite. @natgeocreative #icecave #cave #science #climatechange #underground #Austria #climate #research #ice #eisriesenwelt @uniinnsbruck @uibk.climate

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Visitors can only enter a small portion of the 40 kms of caves that make the icy network, and anyone who does delve deeper will swear men made it because it’s so perfectly created. The connecting ‘hallways’ and crevices appear to be the work of architects because they’re formed as air passes through; water then trickles in and freezes in winter into the beautiful layered swirling shapes.

How it stays frozen is thanks to the caves large opening. In winter the cold winds help freeze it, and in summer the cold winds from inside the cave blow the opposite direction, keeping it easy-freezey. It’s one of those weird quirks of nature that randomly shows up and creates something one-of-a-kind. It’s a truly stunning example of what Mother Nature gets up to when we’re not looking.

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Last in this series – This ice filled gallery inside Eisriesenwelt ice cave up above Werfen near Salzburg in Austria, forms one of several field sites used by the University of Innsbruck for climate research. Mountain regions respond sensitively to climate change. Taking advantage of Alpine caves, a team of scientists led by Swiss Paleoclimatologist Dr. Marc Luetscher (@paleo_marc) from the Swiss Institute for Speleology and Karst Studies (SISKA), is working to understand how permafrost has evolved through time. Ice caves form through a combination of snow intrusion and/or congelation of water infiltrating a karst system. Often up to several centuries old, the climate record of this ice remains largely under-studied. Today we are also able to tell if a cave was an ice cave in the past. This is achieved by looking for cryogenic cave calcites. These form when water enters a cave, and freezes and turns to ice. In this process, the water becomes progressively enriched in ions to the point that it becomes super-saturated and precipitates calcite. @natgeocreative #icecave #cave #science #climatechange #underground #Austria #climate #research #ice #eisriesenwelt @uniinnsbruck @uibk.climate

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Anyone who wants to see it had better come warmly dressed though! It’s obviously quite cold inside, and while you can’t see it all, some of the most spectacular parts are on display in the cave through guided tours, including the Posselt Tower stalagmite, the 23 metre tall Great Ice Embankment and even the final resting place of von Mörk’s ashes, who chose to be laid to rest inside the cave he explored and loved.

Open from May – October, it’s well worth the trek to get there (whether you take the cable car to the top of the mountain or not you’ll still have to hike 40 minutes), because not only is the cave gorgeous, the view from the entrance is worth a shot on your camera too. Speaking of cameras, no pictures are allowed inside! Professional photographers are the only ones allowed to take snaps so that the ice can be preserved, and in some ways that makes it even more special, don’t you think?

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