Ice Cave

en: ice cave 
es: cueva (f) de hielo (m) 
de: Eishöhle (e) 
fr: grotte (f) glacée 
hu: jégbarlang 

Image: Eiskogelhöhle. © Gaspard Magarinos, with kind permission.

An Ice Cave is a cave which contains ice, not a cave formed in ice. Those are called Glacier Caves. Ice caves are also called Glacieres or freezing caverns.

Ice cave may be caves of any type, karst caves, primary caves or tectonic caves. What they have in common is the fact, that there is ice inside the cave. The ice is formed by dripping water and the low temperature of the cave itself.

But it is not that easy: If the cave temperature is below zero, why did the water not freeze inside the rock? The rock must be above zero, the cave air below zero.

There are two mechanisms working together:

  1. The shape of the cave works as a trap for cold air.
    Very often, an ice cave has a special shape, a high entrance and no exit at the bottom. The entrance allows cold air, which is heavier than warm air, to flow down into the cave. So the cave temperater gets colder than the temperature of the rocks. In summer the cold air stay inside the cave because of its specific weight. It is the same principle used in supermarket refrigerators to keep the cold inside.
  2. The average temperature outside is not too much above zero and there are warm and cold seasons.
    The average long term temperature outside is also the temperature of the rocks and normally that of the cave. If there are cold winters, there is cold air to catch in the "temperature trap".
Image: ice stalagmites.

Ice caves are very cold, always below zero, the paths are often very difficult to go. It is normally not possible to build paths in the areas with ice, as the ice moves every year and tends to destroy anything in its way. The paths across the ice are often rebuild every year using wooden planks. Ice caves often have no electric light, as the same problems with moving ice apply to electric installations.

It is essential to wear warm clothes and good shoes. The cave is not suitable for people with health problems.