Words by Ramli Mohd Osman
Images by Eve Leow
On 24th Sep 2010 (Fri), the Geology, Caving and Trekking SIG of MNS Perak launched its first programme. Ramli Mohd Osman, team leader of the Group delivered a talk on “Reliving the Legacy of Gunung Lanno Speleological Expedition 2001”.
Twenty one participants attended the presentation. The content of the presentation is as follows:
8.00 pm – 9.00 pm:
1. Introduction to limestone rocks – composition and how they are formed
2. The unique properties of limestone have created:
a. Unique limestone hill ecosystems – flora and fauna
b. Unique karst topography – caves
c. Uses of limestone
d. Conflict of conservation and exploitation
3. Distribution of limestone (limestone hills, karst topography, caves) in the world and Malaysia
9.00 pm – 10.00 pm:
Reliving the Legacy of Gunung Lanno Speleological Expedition 2001
1. Totes Gebirge, Austria (Alpine Karsts)
2. Gunung Lanno, Malaysia (Tropical Karsts)
The presentation is divided into 2 parts. Part 1 introduces what is limestone rock and the conservation of limestone hills and caves. Part 2 is about caving in Totes Gebirge, Austria (an example of alpine karst) and Gunung Lanno, Malaysia (an example of tropical karst).
Generally, limestone is formed from accumulation of thick layers of calcareous skeletons of marine invertebrates such as corals, sea urchins, brachiopods, bivalves, crinoids and gastropods. Under compaction and cementation these layers become bedded limestone formation.
Limestone consists principally of calcium carbonate derived from the skeletons of marine invertebrates with impurities such as clay, silt, sand and iron. Dissolution of calcium carbonate from the limestone leave behind red soils called terra rosa which is alkaline with pH greater than 8. These soils accumulate in pockets, depressions, and cracks and crevices of a limestone hill. Due to the presence of these soils, plants would later colonize the hill.
Dr. S.C. Chin, in his PhD thesis in 1977, identified 1216 species of limestone flora in Peninsular Malaysia. Of these, 258 species (21%) were identified to be exclusives. These plants require environment with high pH for growth and survival. Among these 258 species, 76 species were identified to be endemic to Malaysia.
Invertebrates that are specially adapted to limestone hills are the snails that require calcium carbonate to produce their shells. A number of these limestone hill snails are also endemic to Malaysia.
The calcium carbonate of limestone is readily soluble in rain water producing karst topography which includes limestone pavements, sink holes, dolines, karst towers, caverns and caves.
Limestone have many uses such as in making building blocks, dimension stones, aggregates, cement, lime, iron and steel industry, fillers and pigments, glass industry, mineral supplement, precipitated calcium carbonate and other industrial uses. Since limestone have many uses, there is a conflict between conservation and exploitation of limestone hills.
Department of Mineral and Geoscience report (2008), noted that there are 308 quarries in Malaysia. Sixty eight (22%) of these are limestone quarries. Of the 68 limestone quarries in Malaysia, 34 (50%) are located in Perak, making the state of Perak having the highest number of limestone quarries in Malaysia. The issue of conservation of limestone hills and their associated caves are therefore the highest in Perak.
Limestone is not exclusively found in Malaysia. It is found in all continents and most countries in the world. Some of these countries produce the most magnificent of mountain ranges of limestone such as Totes Gebirge in Austria and spectacular caves such as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, USA, which is the longest in the world at 591 km.
It is estimated that there are 1,302 limestone hills and 1,722 caves in Malaysia. Perak has 80 limestone hills with 192 caves. The highest number of limestone hills and caves in Perak is in the Kinta Valley that has 45 limestone hills and 135 caves.
Alpine karsts (example Totes Gebirge in Austria) have the following characteristics:
1. 10oC; low humidity
2. Sparse vegetation; caves are easy to find
3. Cave fauna are rare
4. Shafts are common
5. No stalactites, stalagmites, columns or water based speleothems
6. Physical weathering dominates – walls and ceiling rough
Tropical karsts (example Gunung Lanno in Malaysia) have the following characteristics:
1. 30oC; 100% humidity
2. Dense vegetation; caves are not easy to find (hidden by vegetation)
3. Cave fauna are abundant
4. Shafts are rare. Caves are dominated by horizontal passages.
5. Stalactites, stalagmites, columns or water based speleothems are ubiquitous
6. Chemical weathering dominates – walls and ceiling smooth
The international speleological expedition of 2001 that consists of 10 speleologists: 5 from Austria, 3 from Germany, 1 from Britain and 1 from Malaysia discovered, studied, surveyed and registered 36 caves in Gunung Lanno and 1 cave in Gunung Merawan.