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Desert Diary


"As I live and breath" is a familiar saying, and of course as far as animals are concerned, breathing and living are pretty much tied together in our minds. Perhaps the observation that plants don't seem to breath accounts for some of the ancients not considering plants as being living organisms in quite the same way as animals. So strongly imbedded is this connection between life and breath, that sometimes we're taken aback when the connection is broken, and the earth itself appears to breath.

As if respiratory pathways into the earth, cave systems are well known for their slow inhaling and exhaling of air. Before the nature of gases was understood, there seemed little possible explanation other than the earth actually living and breathing. Now, though, we understand that barometric pressure changes on the surface means air must enter or leave to maintain pressure equilibrium with the atmosphere of the outside world. Nevertheless, when you explore cave systems such as Carlsbad Caverns, it's still a little spooky to feel an incoming breeze replaced later by a gentle exhalation.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.