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When the mineral-rich water drips into caves, it leaves behind solid mineral deposits—the same solid material that forms white spots on water faucets or glass dishes.
The mineral deposits accumulate in the well-known icicle-shaped rock on the ceiling, a stalactite, and in a mound on the floor where the drip lands, a stalagmite.
Over time uranium predictably turns into thorium, so scientists can tell how old a layer is by measuring the ratio of uranium to thorium.
The rocks could provide a climate record through the oxygen isotope ratios.The cross section of a stalagmite reveals a sequence of layers, laid down over time.Researchers determine the age of the rings using Uranium-Thorium radioisotopic dating, and examine ring thickness and oxygen isotopes to determine past climate.The soil was as thick as 3 meters (10 feet) in some places, and nearly nonexistent in others.Scientists eventually recognized that the soil, called loess (rhymes with “bus”), was made of rock that had been ground into powder under the weight and movement of the glaciers.