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What Is the Difference Between Stalactites and Stalagmites?


Stalactites and stalagmites are two types of rock formation found in caves. Stalactites are hanging icicle-like deposits that form on the roof of a cave. Stalagmites form on the floor of a cave and resemble inverted stalactites.

Both are composed of the calcium carbonate mineral calcite, which has been deposited by dripping water. Water that seeps through calcium carbonate rocks, such as limestone, dissolves some of the carbonate. When the water drips from the roof of a cave, calcium carbonate precipitates to form stalactites. The water that falls to the floor of the cave also precipitates some carbonate and forms a stalagmite. Stalactites and stalagmites often grow until they join and form a column.

On a school excursion to Jenolan Caves (in New South Wales, Australia) a teacher once told me the best way to remember the difference between a
stalactite and a stalagmite is a 'stalactite must hold on tight, to stop from falling' and a 'stalagmite keeps trying to grow, because one day he might get up to the roof'.

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