Science News: In some caves in Russia, speleothems, or mineral deposit formations such as stalactites and stalagmites, have been growing for as many as 500 000 years. They form when air temperatures in areas containing permafrost are warm enough to cause it to melt, which sends mineral-laden water seeping into the caves. By using radiometric dating to determine when the different layers of speleothems formed, Anton Vaks of the University of Oxford and his colleagues studied Earth’s fluctuating climate. Their results were published online in Science. What they found is that global temperatures only slightly higher than those of the present day can thaw significant regions of permafrost. Because permafrost can contain twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, its melting can have a huge effect on climate and global warming.