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TEDYouth 2013

Eddy Cartaya: My glacier cave discoveries

November 16, 2013

Snow Dragon. Pure Imagination. Frozen Minotaur. These are the names Eddy Cartaya and his climbing partner Brent McGregor gave three glacier caves that they were the first to explore. As the Sandy Glacier slowly slides down Mount Hood in Oregon, the caves and tunnels inside it morph annually thanks to warm water from above and warm air from below. At TEDYouth, Cartaya takes us inside these magical spaces where the ice glows in bright blues and greens, and where artifacts rain from the ceiling.

Eddy Cartaya - Cave Explorer
A ranger at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, Eddy Cartaya not only solves cave crimes -- he also explores the ever-changing system of caves within Mount Hood's Sandy Glacier. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So how many of you have ever
been in a cave before?
00:12
Okay, a few of you.
00:15
When you think of a cave, most of you think
00:16
of a tunnel going through solid rock,
00:18
and in fact, that's how most caves are.
00:20
Around this half of the country,
00:22
most of your caves are made of limestone.
00:23
Back where I'm from, most of our
caves are made of lava rock,
00:25
because we have a lot of volcanoes out there.
00:28
But the caves I want to share
with you today are made
00:30
completely of ice, specifically glacier ice
00:32
that's formed in the side of the tallest mountain
00:35
in the state of Oregon, called Mount Hood.
00:37
Now Mount Hood's only
one hour's drive from Portland,
00:40
the largest city in Oregon,
00:44
where over two million people live.
00:45
Now the most exciting thing for a cave explorer
00:47
is to find a new cave
00:50
and be the first human to ever go into it.
00:51
The second most exciting thing for a cave explorer
00:53
is to be the first one to make a map of a cave.
00:55
Now these days, with so many people hiking around,
00:58
it's pretty hard to find a new cave,
01:00
so you can imagine how excited we were
01:02
to find three new caves
01:04
within sight of Oregon's largest city
01:05
and realize that they had never been explored
01:07
or mapped before.
01:09
It was kind of like being an astronaut,
01:11
because we were getting to
see things and go places
01:12
that no one had ever seen or gone to before.
01:15
So what is a glacier?
01:18
Well, those of you who have
ever seen or touched snow,
01:20
you know that it's really light,
01:22
because it's just a bunch of tiny ice crystals
clumped together, and it's mostly air.
01:23
If you squish a handful of snow to make a snowball,
01:27
it gets really small, hard and dense.
01:29
Well, on a mountain like Hood, where it snows
01:31
over 20 feet a year,
01:33
it crushes the air out of it
01:35
and gradually forms it into hard blue ice.
01:37
Now each year, more and more ice
stacks up on top of it,
01:40
and eventually it gets so heavy
01:43
that it starts to slide down the mountain
01:45
under its own weight,
01:46
forming a slow-moving river of ice.
01:48
When ice packed like that starts to move,
01:50
we call it a glacier, and we give it a name.
01:53
The name of the glacier these caves are formed in
01:55
is the Sandy Glacier.
01:56
Now each year, as new snow lands on the glacier,
01:58
it melts in the summer sun,
02:02
and it forms little rivers of water
on the flow along the ice,
02:03
and they start to melt and bore
their way down through the glacier,
02:06
forming big networks of caves,
02:09
sometimes going all the way down
to the underlying bedrock.
02:11
Now the crazy thing about glacier caves
02:14
is that each year, new tunnels form.
02:16
Different waterfalls pop up or move around
02:19
from place to place inside the cave.
02:21
Warm water from the top of the ice
02:24
is boring its way down,
02:25
and warm air from below the mountain
02:27
actually rises up, gets into the cave,
02:29
and melts the ceilings back taller and taller.
02:31
But the weirdest thing about glacier caves
02:34
is that the entire cave is moving,
02:36
because it's formed inside a block of ice
02:38
the size of a small city
02:40
that's slowly sliding down the mountain.
02:42
Now this is Brent McGregor,
02:44
my cave exploration partner.
02:46
He and I have both been exploring caves a long time
02:48
and we've been climbing mountains a long time,
02:50
but neither one of us had ever really
explored a glacier cave before.
02:52
Back in 2011, Brent saw a YouTube video
02:55
of a couple of hikers that stumbled across
the entrance to one of these caves.
02:58
There were no GPS coordinates for it,
03:02
and all we knew was that it was somewhere
03:04
out on the Sandy Glacier.
03:06
So in July of that year, we went out on the glacier,
03:07
and we found a big crack in the ice.
03:10
We had to build snow and ice anchors
03:12
so that we could tie off ropes
and rappel down into the hole.
03:14
This is me looking into the entrance crevasse.
03:17
At the end of this hole, we found a huge tunnel
03:20
going right up the mountain
03:23
underneath thousands of tons of glacier ice.
03:24
We followed this cave back for about a half mile
03:27
until it came to an end,
03:29
and then with the help of our survey tools
03:31
we made a three-dimensional map of the cave
03:33
on our way back out.
03:35
So how do you map a cave?
03:36
Well, cave maps aren't like trail maps or road maps
03:38
because they have pits and holes
going to overlapping levels.
03:41
To make a cave map, you have to set up
03:44
survey stations every few feet inside the cave,
03:46
and you use a laser to measure
the distance between those stations.
03:49
Then you use a compass and an inclinometer
03:52
to measure the direction the cave is headed
03:55
and measure the slope of the floor and the ceilings.
03:57
Now those of you taking trigonometry,
03:59
that particular type of math is very useful
04:01
for making maps like this
04:03
because it allows you to measure
heights and distances
04:05
without actually having to go there.
04:07
In fact, the more I mapped and studied caves,
04:09
the more useful I found all that math
04:11
that I originally hated in school to be.
04:13
So when you're done surveying,
04:15
you take all this data and
you punch it into a computer
04:17
and you find someone that can draw really well,
04:20
and you have them draft up a map
04:22
that looks something like this,
04:24
and it'll show you both a
bird's-eye view of the passage
04:26
as well as a profile view of the passage,
04:29
kind of like an ant farm view.
04:31
We named this cave Snow Dragon Cave
04:33
because it was like a big dragon
sleeping under the snow.
04:35
Now later this summer, as more
snow melted off the glacier,
04:38
we found more caves, and we realized
they were all connected.
04:41
Not long after we mapped Snow Dragon,
04:44
Brent discovered this new cave not very far away.
04:46
The inside of it was coated with ice,
04:49
so we had to wear big spikes
on our feet called crampons
04:52
so we could walk around without slipping.
04:55
This cave was amazing.
04:57
The ice in the ceiling was glowing blue anad green
04:59
because the sunlight from far above
05:01
was shining through the ice and lighting it all up.
05:03
And we couldn't understand why this cave
05:06
was so much colder than Snow Dragon
05:08
until we got to the end and we found out why.
05:09
There was a huge pit or shaft called a moulin
05:12
going 130 feet straight up
to the surface of the glacier.
05:15
Cold air from the top of the mountain
05:19
was flowing down this hole
and blasting through the cave,
05:20
freezing everything inside of it.
05:23
And we were so excited about finding this new pit,
05:25
we actually came back in January the following year
05:28
so we could be the first ones to explore it.
05:30
It was so cold outside,
05:33
we actually had to sleep inside the cave.
05:34
There's our camp on the left side
of this entrance room.
05:36
The next morning, we climbed out of the cave
05:40
and hiked all the way to the top of the glacier,
05:43
where we finally rigged and rappelled this pit
05:45
for the very first time.
05:47
Brent named this cave Pure Imagination,
05:49
I think because the beautiful sights we saw in there
05:51
were beyond what we could have ever imagined.
05:53
So besides really cool ice,
what else is inside these caves?
05:55
Well not too much lives in them
because they're so cold
05:59
and the entrance is actually covered up with snow
06:01
for about eight months of the year.
06:03
But there are some really cool things in there.
06:05
There's weird bacteria living in the water
06:07
that actually eat and digest rocks
06:09
to make their own food
06:11
to live under this ice.
06:13
In fact, this past summer, scientists collected
06:14
samples of water and ice
06:17
specifically to see if things called extremophiles,
06:18
tiny lifeforms that are evolved
to live in completely hostile conditions,
06:21
might be living under the ice,
06:25
kind of like what they hope to find
on the polar icecaps of Mars someday.
06:27
Another really cool things is that,
06:30
as seeds and birds land on
the surface of the glacier and die,
06:32
they get buried in the snow
06:35
and gradually become part of the glacier,
06:37
sinking deeper and deeper into the ice.
06:38
As these caves form and melt
their way up into the ice,
06:41
they make these artifacts rain down from the ceiling
06:44
and fall onto the cave floor,
where we end up finding them.
06:47
For example, this is a noble fir seed we found.
06:49
It's been frozen in the ice for over 100 years,
06:52
and it's just now starting to sprout.
06:55
This mallard duck feather
06:57
was found over 1,800 feet
in the back of Snow Dragon Cave.
06:59
This duck died on the surface
of the glacier long, long ago,
07:02
and its feathers have finally made it
down through over 100 feet of ice
07:05
before falling inside the cave.
07:09
And this beautiful quartz crystal
07:11
was also found in the back of Snow Dragon.
07:12
Even now, Brent and I find it hard to believe
07:14
that all these discoveries were
essentially in our own backyard,
07:17
hidden away, just waiting to be found.
07:20
Like I said earlier, the idea of discovering
07:23
in this busy world we live in
07:25
kind of seems like something
you can only do with space travel now,
07:26
but that's not true.
07:29
Every year, new caves get discovered
07:31
that no one has ever been in before.
07:33
So it's actually not too late for one of you
07:35
to become a discoverer yourself.
07:37
You just have to be willing to look
07:39
and go where people don't often go
07:41
and focus your eyes and your mind
07:44
to recognize the discovery when you see it,
07:46
because it might be in your own backyard.
07:48
Thank you very much.
07:50
(Applause)
07:52

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Eddy Cartaya - Cave Explorer
A ranger at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, Eddy Cartaya not only solves cave crimes -- he also explores the ever-changing system of caves within Mount Hood's Sandy Glacier.

Why you should listen

Much of Eddy Cartaya's life takes place in caves. A ranger at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, in charge of law enforcement and investigations, he solves crimes that happen in caves. This can range from investigating the theft of lava formations that date back 6,000 years to tracking down a group of people who covered over ancient cave art with spray paint. 

Cartaya and his climbing partner, Brent McGregor, also explore the frozen, icy caves created in the Sandy Glacier as it slowly slides down Oregon's Mount Hood. In 2011, the pair identified and explored three caves which they named Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur. Together, the caves create 7,000 feet of passageway through the glacier. Experts think this may be the longest glacial cave system in the United States outside of Alaska.

The original video is available on TED.com
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