Protect Trainee Jill Riddell visits Butler Cave to study Karst Sediment Chemical Characteristics

Butler Cave Entrance

Recently, PROTECT trainee Jill Riddell (Ph.D. candidate, West Virginia University) visited Butler Cave to study and characterize its karst sediments in terms of organic carbon, grain size, and elemental/mineralogical composition. The Butler Cave-Sinking Creek System in Bath and Highland Counties, Virginia, USA is an elongate cave passage that follows the axis of the Sinking Creek with side passages following right angle joints to the syncline. Butler Cave is part of a larger karst area known as the Burnsville Cove and is owned and protected by the Butler Cave Conservation Society (BCCS) making it an ideal location for cave studies. Jill is a trainee under mentor and investigator Dorothy Vesper studying the fate and transport of chemical contaminant mixtures in Karst Water Systems like those found in the Northern Region of Puerto Rico. Dorothy works alongside Project 3 Leader Ingrid Padilla, who specifically studies the Karst System and cave sediments native to Northern Puerto Rico, and their combined research helps our center understand the similarities and unique differences between the fate and transport on mainland US and Puerto Rico.

The sediments in Butler Cave have been well described physically and provide an excellent baseline of data to build on for chemical characterization. The role of sediments in the storage and transport of contaminants in karst aquifers has become a looming question in recent years as comparatively less is known about their role when compared to aqueous transport of contaminants. In September 2020, Jill collected several sediment samples throughout the main cave passage for analysis, and hopes to add more data to the lexicon of chemical data for cave sediments and to begin preliminary research on the role of sediments in contaminant transport. See more from their visit to Butler Cave by reviewing pictures here.

Sediment Samples

Jill completed a KC Donnelly Externship at the University of Arizona SRP to evaluate and characterize the chemical behavior of mine tailings and remediation in the Catalina Mountains Critical Zone Observatory. This work gave her the opportunity to conduct quantitative laboratory experiments on sediment mineralogy and bonding through instrumentation that is available directly in the Dr. Chorover’s laboratory, and to learn more about how to characterize and quantify the mineralogy of karst sediments. She will present on her KC Donnelly Externship research at the virtual SRP Annual Meeting in December 2020.

Additionally, Jill was featured in the Trainee Spotlight Series to highlight her accomplishments as a trainee at PROTECT. Jill is expected to graduate with her PhD in 2021 and plans to pursue a teaching position or a post-doctoral appointment in geochemistry. We are excited to see where her research takes her in the future and have been fortunate to have her as a student researcher at PROTECT.

Butler Cave-Sinking Creek System
Sediment sample collection in the Butler Cave-sinking creek system