There’s always new knowledge to unearth in caves.
Zac Wormington, a graduate student in the department of geography, geology and planning at Missouri State University, is among those covering ground in cave research in southwest Missouri.
Dr. Kevin Mickus, distinguished professor of geology, and Dr. Doug Gouzie, professor of geology and director of graduate studies in the department, serve as Wormington’s advisors. The professors are known for their own local cave explorations.
Digging into karst
Wormington measures physical changes happening near the surface of the ground in Missouri. This subsurface is known as karst.
The soluble rock lends itself to the creation of caves, sinkholes and disappearing streams. These structures are common throughout the southern part of the state.
“Knowing the extent of caves southern Missouri is filled with will allow researchers to better understand the hydrology of the region and to determine where water resources are,” Mickus said.
“I look at how resistive the ground is to electricity and the speed at which sound waves travel through it,” Wormington said. “This allows me to make a model of what’s going on beneath our feet.”
Old collapses, new pieces of history
Wormington centers his research on a cave located in the Ozark mountains. The roof of the cave has collapsed many times in the past.
The collapses have shaped so-called hidden passages. These passages are believed to hold lost artifacts from Spanish explorers as far back as the 1500s – pieces of history that Wormington could uncover, he explains.
“In creating a 3D picture of the subsurface around the cave, I hope to expose the passage areas so that they can be excavated and explored,” he said.
“If Spanish artifacts are found in these areas, this will change our understanding of southwest Missouri’s history. There is little to no real evidence at this time that explorers from the century made it this far north.”
In addition to exposing new artifacts, Wormington’s work could also reveal new space to explore.
“The cave Zac studies used to be a commercial cave. And, depending on what he finds, it might be again,” Mickus said.
With a larger area exposed, the cave could be reopened as a cave show in the future.
About the award
The award recognition comes with a cash prize of $200.
Wormington will use the funding to support his purchase of personal equipment for field research.
“While many students present at the GSA meeting, only a few receive award recognition for their efforts,” Mickus said. “It’s very prestigious for Zac to receive such recognition. The accomplishment will certainly fuel employment opportunities.”
The GSA meeting is the largest conference solely for geologists in North America.
The meeting brings together geologists of all specialties and allows them to present their latest research findings and connect with fellow researchers.
It also provides networking opportunities for student participants.