From fossils to fiber to the future

Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 6, May 2006

Technology brings Riverbluff Cave to the outside world

Discovered during construction blasting on Sept. 11, 2001, Riverbluff Cave, located in Springfield, contains Ice Age artifacts that are hundreds of thousands of years old. The environment inside the cave is still so fragile that researchers do not allow many people into the cave. But thanks to a collaborative effort by Springfield-Greene County Library, Ozarks Technical Community College, and the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet), Riverbluff Cave, the oldest known cave in North America, is linked to the outside world with a high-speed Internet connection and videoconferencing capabilities.

Now that the cave is online, researchers and educators from around the world have access to real time video and communication from inside the cave. Lead paleontologist Matt Forir said, “Now we can give talks to anybody, anywhere in the world.”

“That was the ultimate goal,” said Bill Giddings, Director of Education and Library Programs at MOREnet. “To give Matt a mechanism to provide a connection to everybody, literally, whether it’s students in a junior high science class, a group of library patrons meeting somewhere in the state, college students taking a geology course, or professors doing research.”

This is the first permanent connection of this kind to a cave, and making it happen was no small feat. A crew from Ozarks Technical Community College, led by Richard Anderson, Coordinator of Network Hardware and Telecommunications, was up to the task. They laid 1,600 feet of armored direct burial fiber-optic cable to connect the cave to the nearby Field House. This cable provides a stable connection from the cameras and other devices in the cave to the MOREnet network.

“The process has been very enlightening, to actually see that we can get fiber-optic material in this environment. It’s awesome to look ahead to what this is going to be able to do for the education community as far as lectures and streaming video out of the cave,” Anderson said.

Riverbluff Cave is estimated to be about 830,000 years old. Forir and his team have found mammoth bones, bear claw marks, snakes, turtles, bits of vegetation and even some Ice Age bugs, all of which are opening new windows to the past. Scientists are discovering new information about the climate and animals from more than 600,000 years ago.

Among the first to get a live presentation from the cave were about 2,000 science and math teachers at the 2006 Interface conference at Tan-Tar-A at Osage Beach in February.

Forir loves to let people know that this kind of science and research is happening right here in Missouri.

Now, teachers and researchers from throughout the state can contact Forir to do a presentation. “These interactive sessions can be sent to anyone who has videoconferencing capabilities,” explains Annie Busch, Director of Springfield-Greene County Library, whose vision brought the collaboration together.

Researchers are using this connection to collaborate with people on-site for collecting samples, viewing formations and artifacts, and real time interaction and collaboration. Educators and researchers alike are lining up to get a glimpse inside and share this amazing piece of history.

For more information about Riverbluff Cave, go to

hendersonl | Monday, May 1, 2006 | |


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