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SNS Outfitter & Guides via Facebook
SNS Outfitter & Guides via Facebook

Massive 'Gash' Splits Open Foothills of Bighorn Mountains

SNS Outfitter & Guides via Facebook
SNS Outfitter & Guides via Facebook

A 150-foot-wide chasm has appeared in the foothills of the Bighorn mountain range in Northern Wyoming. Images of the crack were first posted online on October 23 by local hunting outfitters SNS Outfitter & Guides.

This giant crack in the earth appeared in the last two weeks on a ranch we hunt in the Bighorn Mountains. Everyone here is calling it “the gash”. It’s a really incredible sight.Huntwyo.com

Posted by SNS Outfitter & Guides on Friday, October 23, 2015

Located 10 miles outside the town of Ten Sleeps, "the gash" stretches for 2250 feet. Although it looks like something formed by an earthquake, no seismic activity has been reported in the area. The crack is more likely a slow-moving landslide produced by an especially rainy spring and summer. Acidic rain or subsurface water can sometimes cause carbonate rocks to dissolve, and variations in underground water flow can also threaten the integrity of sediments supporting the surface layer. These factors can trigger the collapse of the surface soil in a similar way to how sinkholes are formed

In light of the curiosity surrounding their first post, SNS brought an engineer to investigate the site. On their Facebook page, they posted the follow-up, "Apparently, a wet spring lubricated across a cap rock. Then, a small spring on either side caused the bottom to slide out. He estimated 15 to 20 million yards of movement."

While cap rocks are naturally strong, the rock that lies beneath them can become unstable when infiltrated by high amounts of water. If the cap rock in this case had slipped off, it would have made the weaker rock beneath it vulnerable to rain. 

Based on the images, Seth WittkeWyoming Geological Survey’s manager of groundwater and geologic hazards and mapping, told the Powell Tribune, "A number of things trigger them, moisture in the subsurface which causes weakness in soil or geology, and any process that would weaken the bedrock or unstabilize it somehow.” Unlike more violent landslides, this one likely occurred at a more gradual pace, according to Wittke.

The survey's public information specialist Chamois Andersen also added, "It is not uncommon to have slides like that." So while unsettling, the crack is thankfully not a sign of seismic catastrophe, as some have feared.

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Human Activity Has Permanently Altered Earth, for Better or Worse (Mostly Worse)
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Modern humans have roamed Earth for just a few hundred thousand years. In the grand scheme of things, that's a very short period. But in that time, we’ve triggered mass extinctions of plants and animals, polluted the planet, and developed nuclear weapons—and our legacy will linger in both nature and the geologic record long after historical records have been lost, according to Ted-ED’s video below.

Modern humans have altered the Earth’s landscape and atmosphere so profoundly that some scientists say we’ve ushered in a new epoch called the Anthropocene, or "new age of humankind," from anthropo (human) and cene (new). Before this, we were living in the Holocene (meaning “entirely recent”), which began around 11,700 years ago and faded sometime around 1950.

The 1950s ushered in both the plastics revolution and the atomic age, both of which permanently introduced chemicals into Earth’s fossil record. Meanwhile, humans have also shaped long-term plant and animal evolution with agriculture, fishing, and hunting. In short, our actions have long-term consequences, even if the human species ends up being a blip on the geologic time scale. Remember that the next time you drink from a plastic bottle, or see a cloud of smoke billowing through the sky.

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This Just In
Spelunkers Discover New Caverns in Montréal's Ancient Cave Network
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An ancient cave system beneath a Montréal park is much more vast than experts believed, the National Post reports.

In 1812, a farmer discovered a cave underneath his property in Montréal’s present-day Saint-Léonard borough. Once used to stockpile ammunition and conceal soldiers during the Rebellions of 1837, the Saint-Léonard cave system in Parc Pie XII is today a tourist attraction and historical landmark. But some speleologists (cave experts) suspected there was more to the natural wonder than met the eye.

Beginning in 2014, two amateur explorers named Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc began searching for undiscovered passages in the Saint-Léonard caverns, according to National Geographic. By 2015 they had some leads; in October 2017, they used drills and hammers to break down a cave’s wall to reveal a new cavern.

The stalactite-filled chamber has soaring 20-foot ceilings, and it's connected to a serpentine network of underground tunnels. These passages formed during the Ice Age around 15,000 years ago, when glacier pressure splintered underground rock.

So far, Caron and Le Blanc have explored between 820 to 1640 feet of virgin cave passage, and expect to find even more. They believe the vast network sits atop an aquifer, and ultimately leads to the Montréal water table.

Spelunking the Saint-Léonard cave system is challenging—some passages are filled with water or require special climbing or rock-breaking equipment. The explorers hope that the caves will be easier to investigate during the dry season, and that the receding waters will allow them to reach new depths below Montréal’s surface.

[h/t National Post]

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