The Philip M. Smith Graduate Research Grant for Cave and Karst Research

2022 Grants


Shikha Acharya ($1,500)
School of Natural Resources
University of Missouri, Columbia

Understanding Cave Tourism: From the Perspective of Visitor On-site Experience

Cave tourism attracts millions of tourists worldwide annually, generates significant economic impact to surrounding communities, and thus serves as an effective regional development plan for many countries. Although previous cave studies predominantly examined from environmental science (e.g., geology, biology) perspective, recent years have seen growing interests in cave tourism (e.g., tourist motivation, benefits). Still, research in understanding tourist on-site experience (e.g., satisfaction, preference, willingness to pay) is limited, let alone from the sensory experience (associated with five bodily senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch) perspective. Sensory experience, widely applied in marketing research for its capability to influence individuals’ behavior and satisfaction, is under-researched in the tourism field at large, not to mention in cave tourism in specific. Therefore, this proposed project aims to understand cave tourists’ on-site experience, with an emphasis on their sensory experience (i.e., the association between cave lighting and tourist satisfaction). The study will be conducted at two show caves - Onondaga (State Park) and Meramec Cavern (private) - in the Cave State of Missouri, in Summer 2022. Visitors to these two caves will be asked to complete a survey asking their on-site experience (including their motivation, satisfaction and preference of cave activities/programs, willingness to pay, responses of cave lighting intensity), trip characteristics (e.g., length of stay, travel companion, and expenses) and their demographics. In addition to advancing cave tourism scholarship, results of this study will help inform cave managers of program design and delivery, enhance tourist on-site experience and ultimately contributes to regional development.



Sarah M. Arpin ($1,500)
Dept. of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Kentucky

Hydrogeology of Silvertip Mountain, Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana

The goal of this project is to understand the contributions of different water storage components to discharge of spring(s) in the understudied alpine karst aquifer of Silvertip Mountain, located in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area of northwestern Montana. Alpine environments are particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Water storage is vital to regional water availability, but year-round snowpack may disappear with a warming climate, reducing the contribution of recharge from that source. At more than 1.5 million acres, the Bob Marshall Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas in the USA outside of Alaska. As human activities continue to reduce pristine environments around the globe, areas not significantly impacted by these activities become more important to understand and protect. In examining the water storage dynamics of Silvertip Mountain, this project aims to determine where water is stored and over what time scales. I hypothesize that winter precipitation is stored as snowpack and frozen groundwater until warmer seasonal temperatures melt these frozen reservoirs and meltwater enters talus and karst systems below. Storage and flow through these groundwater components feeds regional rivers and streams, sustaining water supply downstream. Hydrologic measurements, geochemical sampling, tracer tests, and continuous monitoring are being used to understand the Silvertip karst aquifer. Initial logging at the outlet spring suggests a diurnal temperature signal, which may be associated with meltwater pulses. Solute and C isotope analyses, together with solute speciation modeling, indicate that groundwater chemistry reflects meteoric recharge modified by carbonate weathering, as expected.



Kailey Alessi($1,500)
University of Idaho Department of Culture, Society, and Justice

A Pit Investigation: Historic Archaeology at the Historic Entrance of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave, located in southern Kentucky, is the longest known cave in the world, with 420 miles of mapped passages. In addition to being a geological wonder, it has been visited by humans for thousands of years. Many projects have focused on the prehistoric archaeology of the Historic Entrance to the cave, but none have focused exclusively on the historic archaeology of this site. This project will shed some light on the overlooked history and archaeology of the cave’s historic period. Archival research, pedestrian survey, and archaeological excavation will be conducted at the Historic Entrance. Particularly, the focus will be on trying to identify and understand the fifty foot pit referenced in historic documents. The synthesis of historic documents and archaeological materials will facilitate a greater, more nuanced understanding of how people modified and interacted with the cave environment during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



Luis Omar Calva ($2,368)
Department of Systematic, Zoology and Ecology
ELTE Etvs Lornd Universit, Budapest, Hungary

Taxonomy, Phylogeny and Biogeography of the Niphargus (Amphipoda, Niphargidae) Populations of the Northern Range, Hungary

 While there are over 350 Niphargus species and subspecies worldwide, the taxonomic status of the few species recorded from Hungary remains unknown. The majority of the descriptions were written with minimal morphological information and few pictures, and the type locality was frequently unknown. The taxonomic review of Hungarian species is complicated by the fact that most holotypes are no longer available in type collections due to a variety of factors. There are 20 Niphargus species in Hungary, according to the literature but only nine species were found to be both genuine and part of the actual Hungarian biodiversity. Niphargus tatrensis is a troglobitic crustacean living in the karst waters of Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. It can be found in caves, karst springs, and wells in the karstic areas. The sampling implies intense fieldwork. The know Hungarian N. tatrensis species complex populations live in caves of two areas namely Bkk Mts. and Aggtelek Karst (Northern Range, Hungary) and the genetic study relies on widely used genetic markers including Cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI), 28S rDNS (28S 22, 28S 35) fragment, H3 histone coding fragment, and Internal transcribed spacer ITS. For these markers numerous data are available for other Niphargus species in the databases, making it possible to include the focal populations in complex phylogenic analyses. If we combined morphological and molecular analyses, it will lead to describe a new species from Hungary.



J. Romero-Gelvez ($2,000)
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of California, Davis

Hydroclimate, width and Migrations of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) Through the Last Glacial Cycle from Stable Isotopes and Trace Elements in Northern South American stalagmites

The intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) is dynamically coupled to Earth’s climate and thus it migrates to establish an energy balance between the hemispheres. Ice-age ITCZ movements occurred in response to interhemispheric temperature asymmetries originated in the north Atlantic region, and related to the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC). However, multiple proxy reconstructions in the southern hemisphere suggest that changes in ocean circulation and sea surface temperatures in the Southern Ocean, Pacific Ocean and tropical south Atlantic preceded temperature variations in the north Atlantic. As atmospheric processes are mostly subordinated to large scale oceanic reorganizations, reconstructing the temporal and spatial evolution of the ITCZ from archives with high temporal resolution and precision, such as speleothems, will refine the timing of occurrence and reveal the potential drivers of past periods of climate change. Currently, ITCZ movements reconstructions in South America are confined to the subtropics where the presence of the south American monsoon can obscure a correct interpretation of glacial ITCZ dynamics. Moreover, sediment cores ITCZ records from the region, lack the temporal precision to make accurate comparisons between highlatitude temperature variations and tropical paleorainfall. Here, I propose a reconstruction of paleorainfall from stable isotopes and trace elements in stalagmites tied to Uranium-thorium chronology from four locations in the tropical Andes covering a latitudinal extent of 8. Clusters of paleorecords with enough latitudinal extent can allow reconstructions of temporal and spatial ITCZ patterns in response to high latitude temperature forcing. Output from fresh water housing/sea surface warming experiments in the Southern Ocean. South Atlantic will complement the proxy reconstructions and interpretations resulting from this study.



Amy Hourigan ($1,500)
Department of Earth, Environmental & Atmospheric Sciences
Western Kentucky University

Investigating Carbon Cycling and Critical Zone Dynamics for Urbanized Karst Areas

Steadily increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations are correlated to rising temperatures and global climate change. Investigating the cumulative global carbon cycling processes is important to understanding and quantification the global carbon cycle, including currently undetermined sinks and sources. In karst landscapes, the chemical dissolution process results in features like sinkholes, caves, and underground rivers. This involves the transport of carbon in various forms, including its transformation from atmospheric, soil, and rock sources to dissolved species in groundwater systems and, eventually, potential sequestration through storage. Urban karst landscapes face abundant environmental issues caused by anthropogenic impacts, like increased impervious surfaces and localized greenhouse gas emissions. An important and understudied topic in urban karst groundwater systems is the flux of carbon during dissolution, storage, and precipitation in subterranean karst drainage systems. The proposed research is a longitudinal investigation of the carbon flux in the Lost River Cave system, from source to final discharge point, to characterize and quantify the carbon cycling processes underway using geochemical and carbon isotope data. Lost River Cave is over 10 km in length and is directly located under, and impacted by, the dense urbanized portion of Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is an iconic, well-studied karst landscape. The expected outcomes of this project include quantification of the carbon flux and sourcing of dissolved inorganic carbon in an urban karst system, an improved methodology for calculating these in urban systems to include land use, and contribution to the global carbon flux quantification to include these types of landscapes.



Alexandra Tsalickis ($1,500)
Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences
Auburn University

Constructing a Paleoclimate Record in the Southeastern United States: Hydroclimate and Vegetation Implications

The need to understand past hydroclimate and vegetation changes throughout the Holocene is crucial in determining the intensity of future global warming projections caused by anthropogenic sources. Bat guano is a well-documented and reliable proxy for hydroclimatic and vegetation changes via analyses of δ 2H, δ 15N, and δ 13C stable isotopes. Spanning thousands of years throughout the Holocene, bat guano can provide longer chronologies than standard paleoclimate records such as tree rings, soil profiles, or lake sediments. Bat guano can also serve as a paleoclimatic record from cave systems where standard proxies of paleoclimate records (e.g., speleothems) do not exist. Reconstructing hydroclimate records will indicate how past precipitation changes altered the local ecosystem and allow us to predict future precipitation changes expected by natural climate cycles and anthropogenic induced climate change. There is currently a significant gap in knowledge regarding hydroclimate records in the southeastern U.S. To address this gap in knowledge, I will analyze stable isotopes from a bat guano core extracted from Key Cave in Florence, AL, to determine changes in moisture conditions in the southeastern U.S. over time. My Key Cave guano core will span throughout the Holocene time period as compared to other bat guano cores and a speleothem record analyzed from the same area – providing a long-term record of hydroclimatic change that can be used to identify changes in seasonality and provide evidence for historic climatic events.



Jakub Wcislo ($1,200)
Institute of Geological Sciences
Jagiellonian University, Krakw, Poland

Chemistry of Dripwater in Caves Located in the National Park and Urban Area – Case Study from Southern Poland

Karst aquifers are important source of freshwater, providing about 20–25% of the Earth’s population water for drinking, agricultural and industrial use. Karst systems are highly vulnerable, since the potential contaminants can easily reach phreatic zone (saturated with water) through conduit networks, fractures and vugs. Recharge and contamination commonly occur via vadose zone (unsaturated with water), that functioning is still poorly understood. Proposed project is aimed at investigation of vadose zone water chemistry from caves located in areas characterized by different anthropopression: protected area (Ojcw National Park) and urban area (Krakw city) in southern Poland. The chemical composition of dripwater will be monitored for 1-year period, with monthly water sampling. The collected data will be used to determine and compare degree of anthropogenic impact on groundwater chemistry in shallow karst systems. To do this, the data will be statistically analyzed with descriptive and multivariate analysis (HCA and PCA). Moreover, the study will demonstrate change of chemical composition of these waters through the relatively long time (>20 years). To determine this variability, nowadays results will be compared to the data collected from the same caves by the team of professor Jacek Motyka in 1997–99.


Page last updated or validated on February 23, 2023