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Victorian caves hide mountainous secret


Researchers from the University of Melbourne have found evidence that Australia’s mountains are still growing after studying stalactites inside the Buchan Caves in East Gippsland, Victoria.

Often viewed as one of Victoria’s natural wonders, the stalagmites and stalactites in the Buchan Caves have now provided vital information that Australia’s mountains are continuing to grow.

Using uranium-lead dating, a technique developed by University of Melbourne professor Jon Woodhead, the researchers were able to test the age of samples taken from the cave floors.

This revealed that mountains in Victoria are growing 76 metres per million years.

Australia’s mountains are not situated on the edge of a tectonic plate, making them move differently to mountains in areas with high tectonic activity such as New Zealand.

“New Zealand is right on the boundary between the Pacific and Australian plates,” PHD and researcher John Engel told the ABC. “But all of that activity happening there seems to be propagating inwards towards the Australian interior. It’s required us to expand our thinking about what plate tectonics means.”

To reach a suitable testing zone, Engel and the rest of the research team had to abseil deep underground to the “wild caves” – far beyond the well-lit area available for tourists and sightseers.

“You’ve got to crawl through tight squeezes and it’s very muddy and humid and it’s not for the faint of heart,” Engel said.

The researchers also discovered that parts of the caves are far younger than the 90-million-years-old prediction that was held previously.

“This new research shows that the caves started forming around three and a half million years ago,” Engel said. “Our research doesn’t discredit that, it just shows that there’s been additional younger pulses of uplift that have happened.”

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