Malham cave, located near to the Dead Sea in Israel is now considered the biggest salt cave in the world. The enormous cave covers a distance of slightly more than 10km! What can we learn about this natural phenomenon?
Namakdan cave in Iran, with a cavity that expands to more than 6,850 metres, initially held this title after its discovery in 2006. However a recent study using advanced mapping technology has now managed to confirm a new record. Malham cave beneath Mount Sodome, is bigger by at least 150 metres. However researchers call this a “prudent estimation” and expect the underground network is perhaps even longer that their estimations.
Under a mountain of salt
The cave itself is not very old, probably around 7,000 year old. Mount Sedom, which is the biggest mountain in Israel, is essentially an enormous block of salt. Rare rainfall in this desert zone penetrates into the cracks in the rock and dissolves the salt forming small caves that head towards the Dead Sea. Overall there are nineteen openings where the rain can pass through. These small subterranean structures are eventually joined together to form only one cave, reaching the southern extremity of the adjacent dead sea.
It appears that this structure is in fact continuing to grow. Here salt quickly dissolves meaning the cave continues to grow after every storm. “This cave is definitely longer than our current estimation“, explained Boaz Langford from the Cave Research Centre of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “We don’t currently have definitive figures so we can only imagine the size of the cave. However we know for sure that our current estimation is going to change.”
Inside the cave’s passages, the surroundings are packed full of stalactites and stalagmites. Some are amber coloured as they are covered with a mixture of dust and minerals. “You’d think that you are in another planet“, stated Efraim Cohen one of the speleologists who participated in the expedition. Researchers explain that they have also discovered a “wedding hall” with a hundred of these structures hanging from the cave’s ceiling.
Researchers are not too concerned about the fact that Israel has stolen the top spot of the biggest salt cave in the world from Iran, which considered the country’s greatest enemy. Israeli speleologist, Yoav Negev, and lead researcher on the project, stated that they have even formed “excellent links” with Iranian speleologists across social networks and at professional conferences. He said, when speaking of Iran and the country’s caves, “they are really excellent speleologists and I hope that I can go there on day.“