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Francesco Sauro, the Italian geologist awarded by Time

How caves can give us hints of the origins of life

Francesco Sauro, the Italian geologist awarded by Time

Claudia Astarita

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A couple of weeks ago, the American magazine Time released its latest "Next Generation Leaders" list. Together with a maverick Olympic gymnast, a teenage rock climber, a refugee building bridges across cultures and several others men and women from around the world who are working hard to change the world we found the name of an Italian geologist, Francesco Sauro.

Sauro is the man behind the discovery of the remote caverns hidden within the Auyán-tepuí tabletop mountain, in the rainforests of Venezuela. The Italian geologist is actually famous for feeling attracted by some of the most remote undiscovered caves in the world, from Brazil to Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, Uzbekistan and the Philippines.

In March 2013, using satellite imagery and aerial surveys, Sauro and his team managed to locate the Imawarì Yeuta cave in the Auyán-tepuí tabletop mountain. This was one of the most enchanting discovery they ever made: as explained by Time, "inside, they found an untouched world, with vivid violet lakes and minerals crystalized in the shape of vast eggs and mushrooms". Sauro commented on the amazing discovery stressing that his team were the first new creatures there for millions of years, and that he had been dreaming about it for months afterwards.

"The 31-year-old has become one of the most renowned explorers of his generation, and the discovery of Imawarì Yeuta, which at 50 to 70 million years old are the oldest caves in the world that can explored safely, is his crowning moment. He hopes studying these ancient, preserved worlds will help us to understand the origins of life". His father was a cave explorer, too, and this is where his passion originates. From age 18 he studied geology and almost immediately began leading cave explorations in his native Italy. According to Sauro, "the world is revealed by these caves: below the surface is a dark continent which is mostly unknown but needs to be preserved and considered. As humans we need to start to think of the planet as not just what is on the surface."

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