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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to David Domínguez-Villar.

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Domínguez-Villar, D., Lojen, S., Krklec, K. et al. Is global warming affecting cave temperatures? Experimental and model data from a paradigmatic case study. Clim Dyn 45, 569–581 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-014-2226-1

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Keywords

  • Global warming
  • Cave
  • Temperature
  • Heat conduction
  • Postojna