Stalactites and Stalagmites

Sisters, daughters of the same drop
As published in: Riviera News Magazine, 2006

By: Maria Azanza

When we think about these subterranean structures, the very first thing that comes to our mind are caves and caverns, cold and dark places at times, and at other times suffocating and hot. But just a few know how to distinguish one from the other, and even less people know how they were formed and what they are formed from.

The word stalactite comes from the Greek word stalaktos which means “drop” and, just as its name says it, each of these delicate and fascinating structures started with a simple drop of mineralized water.

First, the water that comes out of a fissure on top of the caves starts to leak.  When the drop falls, it leaves behind it a thin layer of calcite, which is a crystal like form that belongs to the carbonates and is clear or white mainly and with brittle shine.  Every drop that is successively formed and falls deposits another thin layer of calcite over the roof, and little by little a narrow tube is formed, through its interior water keeps on circulating.

The conical forms that are created can get to grow a lot, but they are very fragile as well, because while they can be 6 meters long, the diameter is between only 2 – 9 cm, and the wall is just between 0.1 – 0.5 mm thick.  It’s easy to determine how fast they grow; when they have elongated forms, it means that they grow quickly, if they are thicker, it tells us that the growth advances slowly.


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