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Stalagmites and Stalactites of Harrison’s Cave

Harrison’s Cave, An Underground Adventure in Barbados

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Barbados is known as ‘the land of fly-fishing’. It’s a popular tourist destination and is regarded as something of a tropical paradise. However, there is so much more to this Caribbean nation. It has a unique geology and many remarkable caves, the most stunning of which is Harrison’s Cave, located in the old sugar cane growing area of Barbados.

The Discovery of Harrison’s Cave

Artifacts of the Amerindian people who lived on the island before the coming of the Europeans have been found in the vicinity of the cave and they may well have used it, but the cave was only officially entered in the early 18 th century. It is not known who first entered it, but it is named after a local landowner by the name of Thomas Harrison.

It was not until the 20 th century that the cavern was first explored and mapped. There are several recorded attempts to explore the cave in the 19 th century, however, given the limited technology of the era, it was not possible. All the natural entrances to the cave, of which there are several, were challenging.

In 1973 and 1974, Barbadians, Tony Mason and Alison Thornhill, and the Dane, Ole Sorenson, managed to fully explore the cave. The Barbadian government was quick to realize the potential of the cave system, enlarging one of the natural entrances to accommodate a tram. The main tunnel is named Boyce Cave and was first opened to tourists in 1981. There are numerous other caves close by, although not all properly investigated.

Many Wonder of Harrison’s Cave

Harrison’s Cave is crystallized limestone and is located in the uplands of Barbados. It is characterized by cold flowing streams and deep pools of water. The water flowing through the limestone, a soft rock, has created some wonderful forms. It is one of the largest known stream caves and it is approximately 1.3 miles (2.3 km) long. The average temperature is 27 degrees Celsius. Because there are several streams in the cave, it is regarded as an ‘active cave’, with the running water ever changing the nature of the cave and creating new forms. These many streams in the cave system are beautiful and form waterfalls, or crystal clear or emerald pools.

Pool of crystal-clear water, Harrison’s Cave (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Pool of crystal-clear water, Harrison’s Cave (CC BY-NC 2.0 )

The main part of the cave is the central gallery, commonly known as the Great Hall and measures roughly 45 feet (15 m). Harrison’s Cave also has many remarkable white flowstones that have been formed over the millennia. These are sheets or curtain-like deposits of calcium that have been left as water drips down the cave, likened to petrified waterfalls. They are one of the natural wonders of Barbados.

Harrison’s Cave also has many amazing speleothems. The water flowing through the cave has formed stalactites, pendants hanging from the roof of the cavern, as well as stalagmites rising out of the ground. Where the stalactites and the stalagmites meet, they form limestone columns that connect the floor to the cave ceiling. 

Flowstones, limestone deposits left on the walls of Harrison’s Cave (CC BY 2.0)

Flowstones, limestone deposits left on the walls of Harrison’s Cave ( CC BY 2.0 )

Limestone and calcite formations found in Harrison Cave include a gallery of limestone columns, known as The Village, along with The Chapel, and The Altar, all spectacular formations of speleothems.

Getting to Harrison’s Cave

There are organized trips to the cave which are often part of the historic sugar cave growing highlands tours. Visitors to the cave can pay for a place on a tram which is a comfortable ride while viewing the amazing sights. When the tram reaches the bottom of the cave, visitors can walk around and admire the galleries of stalactites and stalagmites and amazing pools of water. Those who pay for a place on the tram also have the benefit of a tour guide. A specially designed Visitors Center displays an exhibition of historic artifacts.

Top image: Stalagmites and Stalactites of Harrison’s Cave           Source: CC BY-NC 2.0

By Ed Whelan

References

Harrison, J.B. and Jukes-Browne, A.J., 2012. The geology of Barbados . BoD–Books on Demand

Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=pDsDC3xFU8wC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=harrison+cave+barbados&ots=3lXp-6ESfu&sig=Opxy-U0rzjGaPEAOSeg_NROdV40&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=harrison%20cave%20barbados&f=false

Kambesis, P. N., & Machel, H. G. (2013 ). Caves and karst of Barbados. In Coastal Karst Landforms (pp. 227-244). Springer, Dordrecht

Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-007-5016-6_10

Morgan, F. D., et al. (1999, January). Resistivity in cave exploration . In Symposium on the Application of Geophysics to Engineering and Environmental Problems 1999 (pp. 303-308)

Available at: https://library.seg.org/doi/abs/10.4133/1.2922620

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