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Rev Sci Instrum. 2012 Oct;83(10):105116. doi: 10.1063/1.4761927.

A prototype mass spectrometer for in situ analysis of cave atmospheres.

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  • 1Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Rd., San Antonio, Texas 78238, USA.


Research in cave environments has many applications: studying local hydrogeologic activity, paleoclimate studies, analyzing white nose syndrome in bat populations, analogs for underground atmospheres in mining facilities, carbon sequestration efforts, and terrestrial analogs for planetary caves. The atmospheres of many caves contain tracers of current geological and biological activity, but up to this point, in situ studies have been limited to sensors that monitor individual components of the cave atmosphere. A prototype cave mass spectrometer system was assembled from commercial off-the-shelf parts to conduct surveys of atmospheric compositions inside four local Texas caves and to perform atmospheric analysis of two aquifer wellheads to a depth of 60 m. We found increased levels of CO(2) in all caves and, surprisingly, increased levels of O(2) in Bracken Bat Cave. Aquifer wellhead measurements showed indications of methane, other hydrocarbons, and other constituents not anticipated.

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