Živijo Postojna!

March 26, 2008

As most of you probably know by now, I recently heard back from NSF that I have received an International Research Fellowship to pursue a research project as a postdoc at the Karst Research Institute in Slovenia. I will be working with a researcher there named Franci Gabrovšek. He also got his PhD in physics (though his thesis research was in the area of cave formation). The research institute is in a town called Postojna. Elizabeth is still uncertain as to what she can find in Slovenia, but we have decided to go ahead and accept the fellowship. There are three universities within about 20 miles of Postojna, so it is likely that she can find something. The starting date of the fellowship is flexible, but we will be starting sometime between Sept 2008 and Sept 2009 (there is some possibility that we’ll first spend some time in the US). Now it’s time to start learning Slovene. We’re looking forward to knowing a language that James does not!

The project I proposed will study flood pulses in caves and the effect that they have on moving sediment through the cave and enlarging the cave passages. As part of this project I will have to do a fair bit of caving in order to set up monitoring stations in the caves and occasionally retrieve data from those stations. I’ll also be doing some computer simulations of the flood pulses to try to further understand how they effect the cave environment and what they can tell us about the parts of the cave system that are still unknown. I’m still trying to get my mind around the fact that part of my job will be to go caving – and the rest of my job will be to think about caves. It should be an exciting two years.

Slovenia is well known for its caves. In fact the geological term “karst,” which is what the landscape where caves form is called, is a germanization of the Slovenian region named the “Kras.” I’ll be working mostly in two specific cave systems: Postojna Caves and Škocjan Caves. Postojna is a well-known tourist cave where they have a train ride through part of it. It is very nicely decorated, but also has a lot of extensive passage off of the tourist route. Škocjan Caves is a system of caves where a river sinks into a large (500 ft deep) sinkhole and then goes through a massive canyon passage before sinking into a sump. The river resurges 30 km away near Trieste and can be accessed through a number of deep vertical caves between the insurgence and springs. It is also a UNESCO site and certainly one of the most impressive caves I have ever seen. Here is a picture of the canyon passage. The bridge is 150 feet above the floor where the river flows.

Skocjan Cave

You can also check out some pictures from my trip there last year. All except for the first and last pictures on that page are in Slovenia. Here is a photo of the Karst Research Institute. Note the cave salamander (Proteus) on the wall. The English translation of its Slovenian name is “human fish.”

Karst Research Institute

-Matt, the elder brother