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Current Projects
Movile Cave, Mangalia, Romania

Movile Cave contains the first known chemoautotrophically based subterranean ecosystem. To date this is the world’s most diverse (over 50 species of invertebrates of which 35 are endemic) and abundant groundwater ecosystem (unusually high densities of specimens by cave standards).

The study of Movile Cave started in the summer of 1986 when the cave was discovered and has continued ever since. Cave-biologists, geologists, physicists, hydro-chemists, mineralogists, and microbiologists have been actively involved in scientific research here for over three decades and the results of their work have been published in scientific journals, magazines and books.

For a list of publications click here     For a map of Movile Cave click here


Current research projects cover the following topics: characterization of the physico-chemical parameters of the cave environment; hydrogeology of the Mangalia region and origin of the subterranean water; speleogenesis, mineralogy, paleontology in Movile Cave; continuation of the fauna survey, molecular phylogeny, origin of the fauna; food-web analysis and stable isotope studies; behavior and adaptations of the Movile Cave fauna to life in sulfidic conditions; microbiological studies with special emphasis on chemosynthesis and nutrient cycling; identifying sulfur-oxidizing microbial epobionts; etc. Our GESS team collaborates with researchers from the “Emil Racovitza” Speleological Institute in Romania, as well as with researchers from Ljubljana (Slovenia); Amsterdam (The Netherlands); Bruxelles (Belgium); Norwich (England); Belfast (Ireland); Chico and Honolulu (USA); Budapest (Hungary); Rome, L’Aquila, and Sassari (Italy); Madrid (Spain); Poznan (Poland); Helsingør (Denmark); Bohum and Grafenau (Germany).

GESS LAB Lead Researchers for this project are Dr. Serban Sarbu, PhD and Dr. Alexandra Hillebrand-Voiculescu, PhD. For more information about this project contact us.

Sulfur wells, springs, creeks and lakes,
Dobrogea, Romania

In an effort to improve our knowledge of the unique ecosystems that exist in sulfur-rich bodies of water, GESS researchers, together with scientists from partner organizations and universities conduct sample and data collecting trips on a regular basis, especially during the warmer months of the year. These trips frequently lead to new discoveries and oftentimes yield astonishing results.

GESS LAB Lead Researcher for this project is Dr. Serban Sarbu, PhD. For more information about this project contact us.

Sulfur Cave, Covasna, Romania

Adopting a strategy to search for life on Mars or other extraterrestrial bodies is always fraught with uncertainties such as:  the best habitat to find life; the type of metabolism; and resemblance with life on Earth. Mars, in particular, is enigmatic in these regards, with a highly oxidized surface, a very thin atmosphere with little nitrogen, very limited levels of oxygen and water vapor, and 96% CO2. Due to profound differences in geological history, climate, atmospheric composition and electromagnetic shielding from cosmic radiation, there are no terrestrial environments that fully mimic the present conditions on Mars. However, a multitude of Mars-analog environments have been used for studying the effects of certain Mars-like conditions on microbial life and biosignatures. Learning what we can from similar terrestrial environments could offer valuable insights for future missions to Mars. Knowledge about the properties of the environment and about the structure of the bacterial community in Sulfur Cave may well contribute to better understanding of potential life forms in similar harsh environments on Mars or other extraterrestrial locations. With a total area of 5,993 ha and an average altitude of 914 m, the Ciomadul-Bálványos (ROSCI0037) site of Community Importance (SCI) is now part of the Natura 2000 EU-wide network of nature protection areas. 

For a fun illustration of how the heavier-than-air volcanic gasses in this cave flow out of the cave mouth watch this brief video

The Vinca Minor Association (Sfântu Gheorghe, Romania) is the custodian of this protected area.  GESS LAB Lead Researcher for this project is Dr. Serban Sarbu, PhD. For more information about this project contact us.

For the full text of the paper published in May 2018 titled "Sulfur Cave (Romania), an extreme environment with microbial mats in a CO2-H2S/O2 gas chemocline dominated by mycobacteria" authored by Sarbu, S.M., J.W. Aerts, J-F. Flot, R.J.M. Van Spanning, C. Baciu, A. Ionescu, B.M. Kis, R. Incze, S. Siko-Barabasi, Z. Para, B. Hegyeli, N.V. Atudorei, C. Barr, K.H. Nealson, F.L. Forray, C. Lascu, E.J. Fleming, W. Bitter, R. Popa click here

Melissotrypa Cave, Thessaly, Greece

Melissotrypa Cave is located in Northern Greece, near Elassona. It is a large cave of hypogenic origin and it contains three lakes, one of which contains sulfidic water. Rich and diverse communities of cave adapted invertebrates inhabit the cave. The terrestrial fauna appears to rely primarily on allochthonous food of photosynthetic origin that falls into the large entrance shaft or is brought in by bats in the form of bat guano. Our preliminary investigations suggest that the aquatic communities rely on food produced in situ by sulfur-oxidizing chemoautotrophic bacteria.

Most of the aquatic species identified in the cave lakes so far are endemic. Three new species (two snails and one cirolanid isopod) were described already and several others are being studied currently. At least four additional species appear to also be new for science and endemic to this cave. Microbial mats are present on the surface of the sulfidic cave lake, and they also cover the limestone walls around the lake. These consist of sulfide-oxidizing bacteria that represent the base of the complex subterranean food web.

The unusual cave ecosystem in Melissotrypa Cave is currently highly endangered by the massive pumping of groundwater in the nearby village, which supplies drinking water for the town of Elassona.

GESS LAB Lead Researcher for this project is Dr. Serban Sarbu, PhD. For more information about this project contact us.

Underground Research Laboratory,
Mangalia, Romania

A multitude of drinking wells were dug in the town of Mangalia in the first part of the 20th century. Many of these contain sulfidic water as they reach the same aquifer accessed by Movile Cave. In some of these wells we identified aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, endemic to the Mangalia groundwater aquifer. We are looking for the most suitable old hand-dug well to be transformed into an underground research laboratory. A small building at the top of the well will avoid any input of light and eliminate the growth of photosynthetic plants on the walls of the well. A fixed metal ladder will allow safe access and a concrete platform with an air-tight lid will reduce the influence of surface daily and seasonal atmospheric variations, and will maintain the physical and chemical properties of the atmosphere at the bottom of the well.

We will be looking for a well containing thermal sulfidic water, rich in terrestrial and aquatic species of troglobitic (i.e. cave adapted) invertebrate species. A few of the old wells intercept fractures in the bedrock which appear to be connected with the extensive network of small cave passages presumed to exist close to the groundwater level in the limestones around Mangalia. Cave fauna can likely move easily in this environment and may eventually reach presumed underground voids similar to Movile Cave.

The construction of an Underground Research Laboratory in an old hand-dug sulfidic well in Mangalia would allow: experimental work in conditions as close to Movile Cave as possible; continuous monitoring and data collection; video monitoring of the fauna for behavioral studies; real time access to the collected data over the internet; etc. Moreover, the opportunity to perform such work in a well will reduce the number and the length of the scientific expeditions into Movile Cave and will lead to a better protection of this fragile underground ecosystem.

GESS LAB Lead Researcher for this project is Dr. Serban Sarbu, PhD. For more information about this project contact us.

Past Projects
Izverna Cave, Mehedinti, Romania

2004  Izverna Cave in Mehedinti County was declared a natural reserve as a result of GESS efforts. GESS became the custodian of Izverna Cave, Movile Cave, Hergheliei Swamp and Limanu Cave. GESS also became a member of the Natura 2000 Ecological Coalition. You can watch a short video about Izverna Cave by clicking here

Bat Protection in the Southern Carpathians

2001-2004  A LIFE/Natura 2000 bat and bat habitat protection project that was conducted by GESS in an alliance with Green Cross Romania, the "Emil Racovitza" Speleological Institute and the "Grigore Antipa" Museum of Natural History. The goal of this project was to raise public awareness about bats, their habitats and the role they play in nature by organizing an itinerant photographic exhibit and by producing a documentary film that was aired nationally.

A Lifebuoy for the Black Sea

2003  A protection project aimed at the Black Sea and the Romanian coastline. The goal of the project was to raise public awareness about issues affecting the Black Sea and the Romanian coastline by holding seminars and by producing a 2 episode documentary film. 

Movile Cave, Constanta, Romania

1994 - 1995   Movile Cave is declared a protected area and is included in the list of Natural Monuments of the Romanian Academy as a direct result of GESS proceedings.


1994 - 1995   GESS and the "Piatra Altarului" Society initiate proceedings to declare valuable karst sites as new protected areas and set in place guidelines for their conservation for future generations.

The Bright Face of Romania

1993 - 2002  GESS, in a joint effort with the Shell Corporation, initiate a campaign to restore interest for the beauty of local nature in the Romanian people by organizing a series of photographic exhibitions and slide shows.

Movile Map

Movile Cave Map & Cross Section

Project Videos
Sulfur Cave

Sulfur Cave

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Sulfur Cave

© Ferenc Forray

Izverna Cave

© SubAquaSport

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