Originally published in: Sasowsky, I.D., and Palmer, M.V., 1993, Breakthroughs in Karst Geomicrobiology and Redox Chemistry, Karst Waters Institute, Special Publication 1, p. 52.

Microbiology of Lower Kane Cave, Wyoming

R. Mark Maslyn and James A. Pisarowicz

Lower Kane Cave is the largest of a group of thermal spring caves located along the crest of the Little Sheep Mountain anticline of the northeastern Big Horn Basin. Cavern development occurs where the upper portion of the Mississippian Madison Limestone has been breached by the Big Horn River. Thermal spring water flows into the Big Horn River from caves on both sides of the anticline.

Although only 1100 feet (330 meters) in length, Lower Kane Cave was first recognized by Egemeier(1973) as being significant from a speleogenetic standpoint, representing development by sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid is formed by mixing hydrogen sulfide bearing water from the thermal springs with oxygen from the cave air or from seepage water.

Within the cave are three active thermal springs, and a fourth abandoned one. The active springs contain hydrogen sulfide and, on occaison, two flow with small globules of petroleum. The springs rise from fissures in the floor of the cave and flow down a gentle gradient to the Big Horn River.

The cave's walls and ceiling are encrusted with thick layers of gypsum. Where the gypsum has spalled off, gypsum mounds up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) in height have formed. The active cave stream has aggressively dissolved gypsum in its path, leaving towering mounds above the stream level.

Adjacent to the abandoned spring are deposits of brick-red iron-bearing sediments. Egemeier (1973) determined that the dark sediments of the active springs when dried with oxidize to red after a years time.

Samples of both the hydrogen sulfide bearing spring and the dark mud of the active springs were analyzed to determine the nature of the microbiology present in this unusual speleogenic environment. Results will be presented at this symposium.


Copyright (c) 2002-04 by R. Mark Maslyn
Last Updated Sept. 19, 2004