Dye Tracing in Big Creek Gorge

Rhodamine dye injection above Ranger Falls, Ranger Creek, South Cumberland State Park, Grundy County, Tennessee 1

On Saturday (3/24/2018) I tagged along with the gang from Karst Springs Initiative (KSI) to provide assistance where needed, and to play paparazzi for their efforts to better understand the groundwater in Big Creek Gorge. In other words, I knew there would be some amazing photographic opportunities and I could geek out with like-minded people

Our team consisted of  Ben Miller (USGS), Calla Goins (TTU), Zeke McKee (UCG), Lee Anne Bledsoe (Crawford Labs), and Hali Steinman (WKU) - in other words, an all-star cast.
Ben MillerCalla GoinsZeke McKeeHali Steinmann, Lee Anne Bledsoe

Brian Ham, Jason Hardy, Joel Buckner
Another group consisting of Joel Buckner, Bruce Robtoy, and Brian Ham injected dye into Schwoon Spring sink and Fall Creek sink while Kelly Smallwood and Jason Hardy (The Hardwoods) formed the final group and poured eosin in nearby Schoolhouse Creek.

My group had a few objectives. First we set receptors at the Granddaddy Sink where Big Creek goes underground. Receptors were also placed at a number up springs about a mile upstream from Granddaddy Sink. And finally we were pouring dye into the swallet at Ranger Falls.

The working hypothesis is that the dye will reappear at the springs between Granddaddy Sink and Ranger Falls. However, receptors were placed at other locations in order to develop a more clear idea of the subterranean flow paths and basins. Dye traces of karst areas can often be quite surprising with water moving between surface basins easily through the subsurface. Knowing the subsurface hydrology draws a more complete, and often very different picture of the environment.


The Origins of Data, and the Future of State Cave Surveys

In my short ten years of caving I've been witness to a tsunami of new cave data. Being the data hoarding geek that I am, I have tried to surf that wave.

Data doesn't come easy though. We need folks like Gerald Moni, of the Tennessee Cave Survey (TCS), to solicit, collect, organize, manage, and distribute the data. Data collection, or as Gerald calls it, "Doing the hard part", is honestly the hard part. The joke seems lost on some people - caving is hard to do physically. We crawl, scrape, fight our way into and hopefully back out of these holes - and then that's the end of it. We often don't record our trip, which in a strange way makes it as if it never happened. So weekend after weekend Gerald organizes trips, and sits patiently at the cave entrance while we have fun. Upon our muddy exit he asks in his inimitable way, "How far did you go; how tall was the passage, how wide? Slow down..."

Gerlad Moni at the entrance of Trog Cave, Cookeville, TN

Descriptive science is the most basic form of science, but it's the place where the more detailed science all stems from. As cavers, we are 
working with landowners, collecting and recording data. The TCS, and other state surveys are the mediums by which this data is arranged and distributed. It's a model that accounts for landowner privacy, and conservation and safety needs - we vet cavers. Vetted cavers get access to cool data. Cavers share data back to us. Wash hands, rinse, repeat.

At the writing of this, I've been recently contacted by my friends Alexis and Uriah Pryor, former Upper Cumberland Grotto cavers who've moved to Florida. They are attempting to reboot the Florida Cave Survey. This is exciting news, because it's another vessel to organize and understand data through. Those data have all manner of uses from recreational use to scientific study. 

This is my attempt to encourage other states to adopt cave surveys. Huge holes exist in our shared knowledge of caves. The biggest obstacle to developing cave surveys is managing the human element. Everyone has a different idea of what should be done, but it turns out we've developed great tools for managing groups of people with different ideas. Democracy, Robert's Rules of Order, committees, elections, these are all tools to accomplish a stated goal.

I like to remind people that we're all in this together. I like to work with people instead of against them. Let me show you what a few years of working together can look like.

181012 - Tennessee Caves 2018 - 11x17
Arkansas Cave Distribution Map, data 2018
Utah Cave Distribution Map, data 2018
Illinois Cave Distribution Map, data 2018
Texas Cave Distribution Map, data 2018
Missouri Cave Distribution Map, data 2017
Indiana Cave Distribution Map, data 2017

Cave Density of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee

As a final note, Gerald Moni has asked me to share that he does in fact go into caves sometimes, if they are large enough. We love Gerald. :)

Shout outs for edits: Gerald Moni, and Clint Garner.