Climate Dynamics

, Volume 45, Issue 3–4, pp 569–581 | Cite as

Is global warming affecting cave temperatures? Experimental and model data from a paradigmatic case study

  • David Domínguez-VillarEmail author
  • Sonja Lojen
  • Kristina Krklec
  • Andy Baker
  • Ian J. Fairchild


This research focuses on the mechanisms that transfer the variations in surface atmospheric temperature into caves to evaluate whether they record the warming trend of recent decades. As a study case, we use the data from a hall in Postojna Cave (Slovenia), which was monitored from 2009 to 2013. The low-frequency thermal variability of this cave chamber is dominated by the conduction of heat from the surface through the bedrock. We implemented a thermal conduction model that reproduces low-frequency thermal gradients similar to those measured in the cave. At the 37 m depth of this chamber, the model confirms that the bedrock is already recording the local expression of global warming with a delay of 20–25 years, and predicts a cave warming during the coming decades with a mean rate of 0.015 ± 0.004 C year−1. However, because of the transfer of surface atmosphere thermal variability depends on the duration of the oscillations, the thermal anomalies with periods 7–15 years in duration have delay times <10 years at the studied hall. The inter-annual variability of the surface atmospheric temperature is recorded in this cave hall, although due to the different delay and amplitude attenuation that depends on the duration of the anomalies, the cave temperature signal differs significantly from that at the surface. As the depth of the cave is a major factor in thermal conduction, this is a principal control on whether or not a cave has already recorded the onset of global warming.


Global warming Cave Temperature Heat conduction Postojna 



We thank the managers of Postojna Jama d.d. and Ministry of Agriculture and Environment of Slovenia for the permission to access and work in the cave. We appreciate the support of Stanislav Glažar for his dedication during fieldwork and for providing topographic data. We thank Mr. Anton Smrekar from the Slovenian Forest Service–Regional Unit Postojna that provided the historical records of local forest management. We acknowledge the discussions with Dr. Fidel González-Rouco and Dr. Sebastiano de Franciscis to construct and implement the thermal model. We also thank Dr. Asta Gregorič and Dr. Franci Gabrovšek, whom shared their cave monitoring information. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community under a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship of the Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 (Grant Agreement No 219891; PROCAVET project) and the Slovenian Research Agency, research programme P1-0143.


  1. Anderson MP (2005) Heat as a ground water tracer. Gr Water 43:951–968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkinson TC, Smart PL, Wigley TML (1983) Climate and natural radon levels in Casteguard cave, Columbia icefields, Alberta, Canada. Artic Alp Res 15:487–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Badino G (2004) Cave temperature and global climatic changes. Int J Speleol 33:103–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baker A, Genty D, Dreybrodt W, Barnes WL, Mockler NJ, Grapes J (1998) Testing theoretically predicted stalagmite growth rate with recent annually laminated samples: implications for past stalagmite deposition. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 62:393–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beltrami H, Kellman L (2003) An examination of short- and long-term air-ground temperature coupling. Global Planet Change 38:291–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bögli A (1980) Karst hydrology and physical speleolology. Springer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourges F, Genthon P, Mangin A, D’Hulst D (2006) Microclimates of L’Aven D’Orgnac and other French limestone caves (Chaveaut, Esparros, Marsoulas). Int J Climatol 26:1651–1670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buecher RH (1999) Microclimate study of Kartchner caverns, Arizona. J Cave Karst Stud 6:108–120Google Scholar
  9. Cermak V, Rybach L (1982) Thermal conductivity and specific heat of minerals and rocks. In: Angenheister G (ed) Landolt-Börnstein: Zahlenwerte und Funktionen aus Naturwissenschaften und technik. Springer, Berlin, pp 305–343Google Scholar
  10. Collister C, Mattey D (2008) Controls on water drop volume at speleothem drip sites: an experimental study. J Hydrol 358:259–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Freitas CR, Schmekal A (2003) Condensation as a microclimate process: measurement, numerical simulation and prediction in the Glowworm cave, New Zealand. Int J Climatol 23:557–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. de Freitas CR, Littlejhon RN, Clarkson TS, Kristament IS (1982) Cave climate: assessment of airflow and ventilation. J Climatol 2:383–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Domínguez-Villar D (2012) Heat flux. In: Fairchild IJ, Baker A (eds) Speleothem science: from processes to past environments. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, pp 137–145Google Scholar
  14. Domínguez-Villar D, Lojen S, Fairchild IJ (2011) Controls in stable isotopes of drip water from Postojna Cave (Slovenia). In: Fairchild IJ, Baker A, Gunn J, Henderson G (eds) Proceedings of the Climate Change - The Karst Record 6. University of Birmigham/British Cave Research Association, Birmingham, p 37Google Scholar
  15. Domínguez-Villar D, Fairchild IJ, Baker A, Carrasco RM, Pedraza J (2013) Reconstruction of cave temperature based on surface atmosphere temperature and vegetation changes: implications of speleothem palaeoclimate records. Earth Planet Sci Lett 369–370:158–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dreybrodt W, Gabrovšek F, Perne M (2005) Condensation corrosion: a theoretical approach. Acta Carsologica 34:148–317Google Scholar
  17. Fairchild IJ, Baker A (2012) Speleothem science: from processes to past environments. Wiley-Blackwell, ChichesterCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fairchild IJ, Smith CL, Baker A, Fuller L, Spötl C, Mattey D, McDermott EIMF F (2006) Modification and preservation of environmental signals in speleothems. Earth Sci Rev 75:105–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ferguson G, Beltrami H (2006) Transient lateral heat flow due to land-use changes. Earth Planet Sci Lett 242:217–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gallino L (1924/28) Tavole del Rilievo delle R.R. Grotte di Postumia 1:500. Karst Research Institute ZRC SAZU, Postojna (Slovenia)Google Scholar
  21. Genty D (2008) Paleoclimate research in Villars cave (Dordogne, SW-France). Int J Speleol 37:173–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Glažar S, Domínguez-Villar D (2013) Topography of Bela in Rdeča hall from Pisani Rov (Postojna Cave). Technical report, unpublishedGoogle Scholar
  23. Gregorič A, Vaupotič J, Gabrovšek F (2013a) Reasons for large fluctuation of radon and CO2 levels in a dead-end passage of a karst cave (Postojna Cave, Slovenia). Nat Hazarads Earth Syst Sci 13:287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gregorič A, Vaupotič J, Šebela S (2013b) The role of cave ventilation in governing cave air temperature and radon levels (Postojna Cave, Slovenia). Int J Climatol (in press)Google Scholar
  25. Huang Y, Fairchild IJ (2001) Partitioning of Sr2+ and Mg2+ into calcite under karst analogue experimental conditions. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 65:47–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kowalczk A, Froelinch PN (2010) Cave air ventilation and CO2 outgassing by radon-222 modeling: how fast caves breathe? Earth Planet Sci Lett 289:209–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lachniet MS (2009) Climatic and environmental controls on speleothem oxygen-isotope values. Quat Sci Rev 28:412–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lario J, Sánchez-Moral S, Cuezva S, Taborda M, Soler V (2006) High 222Rn levels in a show cave (Castañar de Ibor, Spain): Proposal and application of management measures to minimize the effects on guides and visitors. Atmos Environ 40:7395–7400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Luetscher M, Jeannin PY (2004) Temperature distribution in karst systems: the role of air and water fluxes. Terra Nova 16:344–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Luetscher M, Lismonde B, Jeannin PY (2008) Heat exchanges in the heterometric zone of a karst system: Monlesi cave, Swiss Jura Mountains. J Geophys Res 113:F02025Google Scholar
  31. Moore GW (1964) Cave temperature. Natl Speleol Soc News 22:57–60Google Scholar
  32. Moore GW, Sullivan GN (1964) Out of phase seasonal temperature fluctuations in Cathedral Cave, Kentucky. Geol Soc Am Spec Pap 76:313Google Scholar
  33. Nitoiu D, Beltrami H (2005) Subsurface thermal effecs of land use changes. J Geophys Res 110:F01005Google Scholar
  34. Perrier F, Morat P, Mouël JL (2001) Pressure induced temperature variation in an underground quarry. Earth Planet Sci Lett 191:145–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pflitsch A, Piasecki J (2003) Detection of an airflow system in Niedzwiedzia (Bear) cave, Kletno, Poland. J Cave Karst Stud 65:160–173Google Scholar
  36. Pflitsch A, Wiles M, Horrocks R, Piasecki J, Ringeis J (2010) Dynamic climatologic processes of barometric cave systems using the example of jewel cave and wind cave in South Dakota, USA. Acta Carsol 39:449–462Google Scholar
  37. Pollack HN, Huang S (2000) Climate reconstruction from subsurface temperatures. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci 28:339–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pollack HN, Smerdon JE, van Keken PE (2005) Variable seasonal coupling between air and ground temperatures: A simple representation in terms of subsurface thermal diffusivity. Geophys Res Lett 32:L15405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sánchez-Moral S, Soler V, Cañaveras JC, Sanz-Rubio E, van Grieten R, Gysels K (1999) Inorganic deterioration affecting the Altamira cave, N. Spain: quantitative approach to wall-corrosion (solutional etching) processes induced by visitors. Sci Total Environ 244:67–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schouten S, Huguet C, Hopmans E, Kienhuis MVM, Sinninghe Damsté JS (2007) Analytical methodology for TEX(86) paleothermometry by high-performance liquid chromatograhy/atmospheric pressure chemical ionization-mass spectrometry. Anal Chem 79:2940–2944CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Šebela S, Turk J (2011) Local characteristics of Postojna cave climate, air temperature, and pressure monitoring. Theoret Appl Climatol 105:371–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Smerdon JE, Stieglitz M (2006) Simulated heat transport of harmonic temperature signals in the Earth’s shallow subsurface: lower-boundary sensitivities. Geophys Res Lett 33:L14402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Smerdon JE, Pollack HN, Cermak V, Enz JW, Krel M, Safanda J, Wehmiller JF (2006) Daily, seasonal, and annual relationships between air and subsurface temperatures. J Geophys Res 111:D07101Google Scholar
  44. Smithson PA (1991) Inter-relationships between cave and outside air temperatures. Theor Appl Climatol 44:65–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Stoeva P, Stoev A, Kiskinova N (2006) Long-term changes in the cave atmosphere air temperature as a result of periodic heliophysical processes. Phys Chem Earth 31:123–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wigley TML (1967) Non-steady flow through a porous medium and cave breathing. J Geophys Res 72:3199–3205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wigley TML, Brown MC (1971) Geophysical applications of heat and mass transfer in turbulent pipe flow. Bound Layer Meteorol 1:300–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wigley TML, Brown MC (1976) The physics of caves. In: Ford TD, Cullingford CHD (eds) The science of speleology. Academic Press, London, pp 329–358Google Scholar
  49. Mihevc A, Prelovšek M, Zupan Haina N (2010) Introduction to the Dinaric Karst. Karst Research Institute ZRC SAZU, Postojna (Slovenia)Google Scholar
  50. Moore GW, Sullivan GN (1978) Speleology: the study of caves. Zephyrus Press, Teaneck NJ (USA)Google Scholar
  51. Palmer AN (2007) Cave geology. Cave books, Dayton OH (USA)Google Scholar
  52. Yazaki T, Iwata Y, Hirota T, Kominami Y, Kawakata T, Yoshida T, Yania Y, Inoue S (2013) Influences of winter climatic conditions on the relation between annual mean soil temperature and air temperatures from central to northern Japan. Cold Reg Sci Technol 85:217–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Domínguez-Villar
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sonja Lojen
    • 3
  • Kristina Krklec
    • 4
  • Andy Baker
    • 5
  • Ian J. Fairchild
    • 2
  1. 1.Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución HumanaBurgosSpain
  2. 2.School of Geography, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  3. 3.Department of Environmental SciencesJožef Stefan InstituteLjubljanaSlovenia
  4. 4.Department of Soil Science, Faculty of AgricultureUniversity of ZagrebZagrebCroatia
  5. 5.Connected Waters Initiative Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations