Northwest NEWS

October 22, 2001


New IMAX explores the extreme environments of caves

by Deborah Stone
   Caves have always been intriguing places for intrepid explorers willing to brave conditions not exactly conducive to human survival - including total darkness, lack of oxygen, the risk of becoming fatally trapped and the danger of flooding. Spelunkers (cave explorers) of course are used to this, as it's part and parcel of their work and their desire to test themselves in such conditions goes hand and hand with their enthusiasm for discovery.
   The public can now get an up-close view of two modern-day spelunkers as they explore some of the world's most unusual caves in the film, "Journey Into Amazing Caves," the latest IMAX production currently running at Pacific Science Center.
   Teachers' aid Nancy Aulenbach and microbiologist Dr. Hazel Barton, two accomplished spelunkers, embark on a journey to some of the most extreme environments on Earth to study how caves are formed and to search for tiny organisms that inhabit these unusual and hostile places.
   The film takes audiences through tiny, twisting passages, into blue mazes of ice and through flooded underground vaults, entering a world so extreme that the creatures that live there are called extremophiles. All caves are alive and support abundant life forms that manage to survive in environments with no light and few nutrients. Due to this situation, competing organisms must produce powerful defense mechanisms. Barton hopes that this subterranean life may point to new drugs or antibiotics to combat human illness. Though her field of medical research is experimental, a microbe found in a cave by another scientist has produced toxins in a laboratory that killed leukemia cells. Barton is focusing on finding cures for a deadly new strain of tuberculosis that can't be cured by antibiotics.
   The film centers on three areas in the world that offer unique caving environments: caves in the remote canyons of the Grand Canyon, ice caves in Greenland, and underwater caves on the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico.
   The photography is amazing and captures the thrills of rappelling, diving and crawling through narrow passageways, immersing audiences in the center of the action and providing them with insight into these beautiful and surprising environments. Director Steve Judson and his team shot 50 feet underwater and hundreds of feet in the air, often hanging on rappel lines, to capture these unsurpassed images.
   "Journey Into Amazing Caves" is an exciting glimpse into the beauty and mystery of some of nature's forbidden zones. The film runs through Spring 2002. For show time and ticket information call 206-443-IMAX.