A team of divers has discovered that the world's largest cave is even larger than previously thought.
During a dive last month, a British crew uncovered an underwater tunnel connecting Vietnam's largest cave, Son Doong, to another massive cave, Hang Thung. After the caves are formally joined, the volume will be projected to be 1.4 billion cubic feet.
Jason Mallinson, Rick Stanton, and Chris Jewell were among the divers that helped save the Thai soccer team in 2018. They were tasked with studying Son Doong's huge network of rivers and uncovered a previously unknown tunnel connecting it to another massive cave known as Hang Thung.
At more than 200m high (up to 503m in sections), 175m wide, and 9.4km long, Son Doong was already vast - so big that it could easily contain any of the world's other largest caverns, and you could put many forty-storey skyscrapers standing straight. As Limbert recently told CNN, the latest discovery adds an extra 1.6 million cubic metre of volume to its previous 38.5 million cubic metre, which is the equivalent to ascending Mount Everest's 8848m and discovering a mound that makes it 1000m taller.
Son Doong was discovered in 1990 by a native named Ho Khanh. He sought refuge from a storm at the base of a massive cliff in the centre of the forest, where he discovered a deep hole releasing wind and even puffs of cloud. He didn't proceed any further, and its position was lost for 19 years until he uncovered it and guided Limbert and his divers there.
'We have seen monkeys that are able to climb down 200m to visit the jungle within the cave where they collect snails,' says Limbert. 'We’ve also seen snakes and other animals including squirrels, rats, flying fox as well as birds and bats.'
He and his colleagues also identified seven new species of fish, spiders, scorpions, shrimp, woodlice, and plankton, all of which are entirely white and lack eyes as a result of living in utter darkness.
But, there is enough to see in the cave, which is lighted in areas by two lines - or sinkholes - that may flood the cave with dazzling sunshine beams. Its depths contain the world's largest stalagmites as well as a jungle with trees up to 50 meters tall. 'You can see up to 1.5km,' says Limbert, 'but the cave's own weather system can create beautiful clouds that reduce visibility.'
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