Cave and cavern are often used interchangeably but in reality, they do not mean the same thing. A cavern is a special type of cave. A cave is defined as a hollow in the earth that has an opening into a hill or a mountain. The opening of a cave can be either horizontal or vertical. Some parts of a cave are usually not reachable by sunlight.
A cave differs from a cavern in the following aspects:
Size and position
In regard to size, caverns tend to be larger in size than caves. Caverns consist of a series of caves or cave chambers joined together by the same passageway. Caves however usually consist of just a single hollow or chamber.
Concerning their positions on the surface of the earth, caves are usually located above the ground while caverns are located underground. The hollow or opening of a cave is usually located on the surface of the earth while in the case of a cavern, they are located underground.
In terms of shape, caves are usually straight and stretch either upwards or downwards. Caverns on the other hand are steep, they steep towards the ground. Caverns can go so deep into the ground such that they reach the ground water level.
Caves and caverns are usually all made from soluble rock but caverns may consist of additional materials. The soluble rocks from which caves and caverns are made include limestone and dolostone among others.
Caverns have the ability to form stalagmites and speleothems. Stalagmites are rock formations which rise from the floor of a cave. They are formed as a result of accumulation of water drippings. The water drippings contain calcium which mix with stalactite to form stalagmites. Most stalagmites are cone-shaped but they can also be plate-shaped. Speleothems on their parts are mineral deposits which comprise of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is precipitated from water which contains carbonic acid.
Formation of caves and caverns
Both caves and caverns occur naturally. They are formed as a result of weathering of rocks. Formation of caves and caverns occurs due to a process of volcanic activity, chemical actions, pressure, soil erosion, and microbial activities. Caves which are usually formed along coastal areas are formed as a result of tidal activity on the nearby rocks. Strong waves and tides soften and erode rocks leading to formation of caves and caverns.
The caves which are formed along coastal areas are referred to as sea caves. These caves usually get filled with water from the sea or ocean. Once they have been formed, these caves can extend deeper into the ground due to more tidal activity.
Most of the caves and caverns known to the public are the ones referred to as solution caves and caverns. These are usually formed from limestone. Solution caverns for example are formed as a result of underground water disintegrating large limestone rocks which occur beneath the ground. The limestone rocks dissolve as a result of the action of water on them leading to solution caverns.
The interconnecting chambers in a solution cavern can form a variety of patterns. These include anastomotic, spongework, branching, network, ramifying, and single-passage among others.
Even though caves occur naturally, not all caves are as a result of natural processes. Some caves are usually formed as a result of human activities such as mining, cutting of building stones and rocks and oil well drilling.
More types of caves
Apart from solution caves, there are other types of caves. These include glacier caves, volcanic caves, grottos, erosion caves, and crevices.