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A hidden Arctic cave holds secrets about our past and future


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  • Location: Camborne
  • Location: Camborne

IN THE WINTER of 2008, the trajectory of Gina Moseley’s career shifted over the course of a pint in a pub. A budding paleoclimatologist doing a PhD at the University of Bristol on cave environments at the time, Moseley was meeting with members of the university caving society, when she struck up a conversation with longtime cave explorer, Charlie Self.

He began telling her about a remote cave in north Greenland, a vast, gaping black hole embedded in the crest of a steep cliff hundreds of metres aboveground and seemingly impossible to reach. In the 1960s, the United States Army took the first official photographs of the cave during Cold War reconnaissance missions, when pilots were seeking emergency ice-free landing strips. Since then, a handful of researchers — Self included — had tried but failed to reach it. Some had even gone so far as to hover a helicopter at the mouth to peek inside. None of them had made it in.

Caves contain some of the most reliable cues about past climates, captured in stalactites and stalagmites, the sculptural formations that often decorate their ceilings and floors. To the young paleoclimatologist Moseley, hearing about this unexplored chasm in the swiftly changing climate of north Greenland was tantalising. “I was immediately excited by the idea of an expedition,” Moseley says. Self loaned her the tome of information he’d gathered, which Moseley photocopied before resigning the pages to a drawer. “I didn’t know what to do with it,” she says. Over the years, her mind would occasionally turn to that cave, and she’d imagine the expedition she’d take to reach it. “But I didn’t have the confidence — or even know where to start.”


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