Sunday, September 4, 2016

Batu Caves

Yee2 picked me and Syria up from the city center at 9am, and we drove north to meet others at Old Town White Coffee (a bit a la Starbucks, or Pret if you're in the UK) for breakfast. We then drove on to Batu Caves, a tourist hot spot. We first stopped in the front office, where we provided our identity cards so that we would be permitted to enter into the non-tourist sections of the limestone outcrop. 

We walked away from the main tourist site, the 140 ft gold statue of Lord Murugan (Hindu god of war) in front of the 272 steps leading up to Temple Cave, and headed in the direction of Ramayana Cave. The Murugan statue was unveiled in 2006 and is the tallest statue of Murugan in the world. 

On the route we pass a 50 ft tall statue of Hanuman (god and an ardent devotee of the god Rama) and then stop just before reaching the Ramayana Cave. At this point we put on our helmets and begin a climb away from the tourists up the side of the limestone cliff, grabbing roots and branches to pull ourselves up, and hoping not to send loose pebbles toward fellow group climbers below!

Inside the cave we find a lot of evidence of other cavers (or temple seekers) who had passed by before. No chambers with good candidate stalagmites however, so we did not stay inside for too long. A good first exercise to get the heart pumping nonetheless!

Returning back to the main tourist area, we decide to climb up the 272 steps to see what all the fuss was about. At the top of the stairs, to the left there is a small pathway that leads to another chamber apart from the main Temple Cave, which is the Dark Cave Conservation Site - the Cave of Life. Here we met Nurul, one of the education officers, who kindly agreed to show us around the show cave area, even though we had not arranged a tour. Nurul told us that she has worked with researchers before, and has even been collecting and measuring daily dripwater weight to monitor the speed of specific drips, along with monitoring the temperature and humidity of the cave twice per day (excellent!) We were not permitted at that time to go deeper into the cave in the adventure caving section, though we were told that there were stalagmites growing in that area. We promised to return with permits (ours for this trip were unfortunately still under review) to investigate this cave further during a future trip.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Meetup in Chinatown

After dropping off our things at a small hotel in Chinatown, Syria and I walked to the central market where we met Tony Yap and Yee Yoke Chuan ("Yee2"), members of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor caving group. Tony and Yee live north of the city, and let us know that they didn't often travel to Chinatown (in the "old Kuala Lumpur" or "old KL" region of the city) because it was too tourist-y (I had chosen this spot only because of the incredible selection of food I'd enjoyed last time I was in KL, but let's face it, you can't walk a block without hitting incredible mouth-watering deliciousness in Malaysia). Anyhow, Tony and Yee took us to one of their favorite Chinese restaurants down the street, where we were met by two other MNS cave group members, Yee Chun Wah ("Yee1") and Teh Tiong Viz. Here we had dinner and discussed plans for the rest of the west Malaysia expedition.

initial meeting in Chinatown, KL
from left to right: Teh, Yee1, Tony, Yee2, and Stacy

As members of the MNS cave group are all volunteers and are members of a caving club simply because they enjoy caving and exploring, we needed to schedule our excursion days off-days when the members were free from their professional (or family) commitments. We decided the next day (Sunday) to just visit a few caves nearby, in the Batu limestone outcrop just a short drive north of KL (a famous tourist spot for Batu "Temple Cave"-- a Hundu temple and shrine). At the end of the following week we would all meet back in KL (also at that time joined by Prof. Xianfeng Wang and his lab technician Yanbin Lu from the Earth Observatory of Singapore), and then drive out to Merapoh Friday evening (~3-4 hours depending on the traffic) for our first field expedition site. Friday evening would be the start of a national holiday weekend in Malaysia comparable in scope to the Christmas holiday in the US: Monday Sep. 12 was Hari Raya Haji, the local Malaysian name for the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha, "the Feast of Sacrifice", which commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (also known as Abraham) to follow Allah's (God's) command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. We therefore planned to depart from KL as early as possible, before rush-hour traffic. Following our expedition in Merapoh, we would then drive west across the Cameron Highlands to Ipoh on Sunday for further exploring through national holiday Monday, before returning back to KL. 

Going South

On the heels of the 12th International Conference on Paleoceanography (ICP12) in beautiful bike-friendly, canalized Utrecht in the Netherlands, I am flying south from 52°N to 3°N latitude (11.5hr from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur) to begin a 7-day total expedition searching for new cave chamber sites in west and east Malaysia. 

waiting in another airport
The Indo-Pacific Warm Pool (IPWP) region is perhaps the ideal location to investigate tropical climate change using speleothem proxies: the region is positioned in an area of strong El NiƱo influence (the largest single source of global inter-annual variability in modern climate), holds a direct relationship with the Asian and Australasian monsoons, and has an abundant array of limestone outcrops. Site-specific rainwater and dripwater studies can reveal present-day rainwater and dripwater oxygen isotopes to vary with regional precipitation amount with significant basin-wide correlations at monthly and longer timescales. Thus, it is likely that variations in speleothem oxygen isotopes reflect changes in past rainfall amount in the region to some degree. 

The objective of the expedition is to locate new karst field sites in west and east Malaysia, north equatorial states spread across the maritime continent from the east Indian to west Pacific ocean basins. Ultimately, the new sites be used to establish additional ocean water, rainwater, and cave dripwater isotopic variability monitoring sites, construct new stalagmite oxygen isotope records, and extend the spatial scale of spelethem records in the region to be used in an isotope-enabled model-data comparison study. The expedition will be carried out with Prof. Xianfeng Wang and his research associate (Earth Observatory of Singapore), experienced local caver Syria Lejau (former senior caving guide at Gunung Mulu Park), and members of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) caving group. Syria has traveled with me from Europe to Malaysia, and we have just arrived in KLIA this Saturday afternoon. We are taking the Star Shuttle bus service from the airport up to Chinatown, where we will be meeting Tony Yap and Yee CW, members of the MNS Selangor caving group. I note that the 1.5hr shuttle bus service into Kuala Lumpur (10RM) is about equal to the cost of the 6min local bus ride I took from my house to the bus station back in Oxford, UK (£1.80). Having traveled through Kuala Lumpur for several years now, I am happy to have become quite savvy to the best deals on travel!

West and East Malaysia location map (from