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For past climate clues, ask a stalag-mite

Scientists have turned to mites fossilized in cave formations to show in a novel way that the American Southwest at times during the past few thousand years was much wetter and cooler than it is now.

Hidden Cave lies at an altitude of about 2,000 meters in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. A steep shaft leads about 25 m down from a wide entrance to a 100-by-150-m cavern with muddy floor. Stalagmites and other cave formations slowly grew on the floor and walls as water dripped into the cave and deposited dissolved minerals.

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