17 YEARS OF RESEARCH AND EXPLORATION IN THE OMEGA CAVE SYSTEM: JOINT MANAGEMENT OF VIRGINIA’S LONGEST AND DEEPEST CAVE BY THE CAVE CONSERVANCY OF THE VIRGINIAS AND THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE
From a research perspective, the Omega Cave system is an ideal site for investigating the function and evolution of cave systems in the Valley and Ridge physiographic province. Initial studies have described the hydrogeologic function of the larger scarp-slope style karst system containing the cave, and developed a speleogenetic model for the system (Schwartz and Orndorff, 2009). Ongoing and recently initiated research includes: 1) quantifying the timing and rates of passage development (speleogenesis) and related mechanical and chemical erosion, 2) periodic sampling to characterize the geochemical and isotopic variability of the different water sources found in the cave, and 3) installing a network of instrumentation to build a continuous hydrologic, geochemical, and environmental dataset that can be used to understand how, why, and when these parameters change in the cave, and how these changes impact related speleogenetic processes and systems, in addition to affecting biological systems and processes.
Plans for future research in the system focus on addressing basic and interdisciplinary questions, and building a collaborative network of researchers that are focused on understanding how the cave system functions and is affected over long and short timescales by external and internal natural processes such as climate variability and biogeochemical cycles. All these objectives are facilitated by the productive collaboration between the CCV and U.S. Forest Service for the management of different parts of this karst system.