The relative importance of wind-driven and chimney effect cave ventilation: Observations in Postojna Cave (Slovenia)

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Lovel Kukuljan , Franci Gabrovšek, Matthew D Covington 


Density-driven chimney effect airflow is the most common form of cave ventilation, allowing gas exchange between the outside and the karst subsurface. However, cave ventilation can also be driven by other mechanisms, namely winds. We discuss the mechanism and dynamics of wind-driven ventilation using observations in Postojna Cave, Slovenia. We show how seasonal airflow patterns driven by the chimney effect are substantially modified by outside winds. Wind flow over irregular topography forms near-surface air pressure variations and thus pressure differences between cave entrances at different locations. These pressure differences depend on wind speed and direction and their relationship to surface topography and the location of cave entrances. Winds can act in the same or opposite direction as the chimney effect and can either enhance, diminish or even reverse the direction of the density-driven airflows. To examine the possibility of wind-driven flow, we used a computational fluid dynamics model to calculate the wind pressure field over Postojna Cave and the pressure differences between selected points for different configurations of wind speed and direction. We compared these values with those obtained from airflow measurements in the cave and from simple theoretical considerations. Despite the simplicity of the approach and the complexity of the cave system, the comparisons showed satisfactory agreement. This allowed a more general assessment of the relative importance of wind pressure for the subsurface ventilation. We are certain that this example is not unique and that the wind-driven effect needs to be considered elsewhere to provide better insights into the dynamics of cave climate, air composition or dripwater geochemistry.



Physical Sciences and Mathematics


cave airflow, pressure difference, driving mechanism, microclimate, Postojna Cave


Published: 2021-06-11 18:03

Last Updated: 2021-06-12 01:03

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Data Availability (Reason not available):
Data are available from the authors upon request.

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