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Art Palmer, a leading expert on caves and director of the Water Resources Program at SUNY-Oneonta, will speak on “America’s Largest Caves: Origin and Exploration” noon today in room 108 of Van Wickle Hall.

Free and open to the public, the talk is part of the weekly Geology Department Seminar Series, held at noon most Fridays this spring. Lunch is available at no charge to students and for $3 to faculty and staff.

According to Palmer, who has been quoted by the Associated Press for his expertise, some of the most spectacular caves were formed by deep-seated sulfide reactions, rather than by normal groundwater flow. These include the well-known Carlsbad Caverns and New Mexico’s Lechuguilla Cave, considered one of the world’s most beautiful caves, with unusual mineral deposits unheard of elsewhere. The caves were dissolved from limestone by sulfuric acid, which formed by the oxidation of hydrogen sulfide deep beneath the surface.

The caves have an important relationship to nearby oil fields and marine gypsum deposits, Palmer notes. Many of the same processes are essential to the origin of certain ores and some of the most productive aquifers. These processes can be seen in action in only a few places in the world. Cueva de Villa Luz in Mexico, for example, contains toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide, sulfuric acid so concentrated that it burns skin and eats clothing, and a bizarre ecosystem that derives its energy from the cave-forming chemical reactions. These and similar processes reportedly account for many puzzling features seen in the geologic record.

Palmer was keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Karst Processes and the Global Carbon Cycle in Bowling Green, Ky. He teaches hydrology, geochemistry, and geophysics at State University of New York College at Oneonta. He is a fellow and Kirk Bryan Award recipient of the Geological Society of America, and an honorary member of the National Speleological Society. He earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in geology at Williams College, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in hydrogeology at Indiana University.

Last week in the Geology Department Seminar Series, Queens College Professor Alan Ludman gave a talk on “Field Boots and Batteries: Geologic Mapping with GIS.”

Two weeks ago, Charles Ver Straten of the Center for Stratigraphy and Paleontology at New York State Museum kicked off the series with a lecture on “Mud, Sand, and Mountains: Looking at Sedimentary Rocks, Seeing Tectonics.”

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