Geologists, the scientists who study rocks and rock formations, know that under the Great Basin, beneath the desert's alluvial base, the Lehman Caves are constantly changing. Although such changes might appear slow and difficult to detect, still they could have grave consequences. In order to appreciate why present-day scientists are concerned about changes in the Nevada caves one needs to learn a little bit about the history and ecology of the Great Basin.
The Great Basin covers a vast, arid region, an area that scientists describe as a "cold desert." The Great Basin lies well above sea level, and therefore its inhabitants are frequently exposed to very low temperatures. The Bristlecone pine grows over much of the Great Basin. In fact, during the summer tourists who visit Great Basin Park can participate in a Bristlecone hike.
On other large stretches of the Great Basin one finds Big Sagebrush, Black brush, greasewood and other low-lying vegetation. Some tourists are surprised to discover that the Great Basin contains very few cacti. Underneath this vegetation, this flora of the desert, exist the Lehman Caves. These represent the most unique feature of the Great Basin. These caves draw thousands of visitors to Great Basin, Nevada.
The limestone caves under the Great Basin hold within their chambers much information about climate change in and around Great Basin, Nevada. The caves have shared with scientists many secrets about how climate change can affect the area's pants and animals.
Scientists who have analyzed the data from these "secrets" are now concerned about the caves in the Great Basin Park.
The scientists feel certain that the daily influx into the Lehman Caves of many tourists is going to eventually have an impact on the condition of the caves. And it is not just the cave visitors who could do harm to the Lehman Caves; human actions on the lands of the Great Basin could also do damage to the quality of the caves that are under it.
Three elements of human intervention in the Great Basin currently have scientists worried. Those are:
1) The extent to which fire protections have increased the growth of pinyon pines and juniper trees on South Snake Range. The larger number of trees means a decrease in the moisture in the caves.
2) Visitors to the caves shed lint, skin and hair. As these particles float in the air they could damage the limestone surface.
3) The building of tunnels in the caves and the installation of electric lighting has also created a potential source of unwanted change within the Lehman Caves.
Unless scientists do not soon discover a way to counteract the above conditions, the effects of human intervention, the caves of the Great Basin could suffer irreparable harm. If scientists can not find a way to address that potential harm, then the Lehman Caves could be in danger of disappearing forever. Those who hope to one day see the caves of the Great Basin should take comfort from the fact that scientists are now working hard to avert that tragedy.