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Dissolving a puzzle

Study shows mathematically how a trickle can create a cavern

Spelunkers look at a cave and wonder how to explore its deepest reaches. But physicists look at it and wonder how it got there in the first place.

A new mathematical analysis solves a longstanding cave-formation puzzle: how a trickle of water laced with carbonic acid manages to quickly dissolve rock to create massive conduits. The trick, it seems, is that fluid flow focuses rapidly in certain channels, which grow at the expense of others and allow the acid to penetrate deeply.

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