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Friday, 29 July 2011

St Beatus Caves field trip with Philipp Haeuselmann

The XVIII INQUA Congress mid-conference field trips also offered the opportunity to stay a little closer to Bern and learn about the erosional history of the Berner Oberland. Philipp Haeuselmann and Frank Preusser led a double-header to the Aareschlucht and St Beatus Caves.

The Aareschlucht is a spectacular gorge incised into a limestone riegel which transects the Aare valley east of Interlaken. The Aare is a sizeable river here, and enters the gorge beneath vertical cliffs 10-15m apart. The most incredible feature of the gorge, though, is the way the walls on both sides develop amazing overhangs; at one point the walkway above the river occupies the whole gap between the walls on either side. There's also some impressive Swiss engineering to have put in a walkway down the gorge at all...

The St Beatus Caves represent the easily-accessible part of a giant cave system used by Haeuselmann et al. (2007) to investigate the longer-term history of the region. Using cosmogenic isotope burial dating of cave sediments, Haeuselmann et al. discovered a 10-fold increase in incision rates in the Aare valley at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. It was fantastic to see some of the caves involved in the study, the complex history of phreatic (under the water table) and vadose (above the water table) caves in the system, and the incredible volumes of water moving in subterranean rivers after heavy rainfall! Plus our short walk represented a tiny fraction of the entire, enormous cave network.