Speleology, the Science of Caves, is the study of
the subterranean world. Speleology involves a complex overlapping
of various scientific fields that the International
Union of Speleology, the international body for caving and speleology,
has subdivided into areas of scientific research such as:
- Geospeleology or Physical Speleology - one
of the sciences of the earth, which also include geology, physical
geography, karstology, hydrogeology, and the exploration and topography
of individual caves.
- the study of subterranean life, a branch of biology or zoology
which includes systematics, morphology and experimental research
of cave fauna, ecology, biogeography, genetics and evolutionary
- Anthropospeleology or Speleo-Anthropology
- a part of anthropology, archaeology and paleontology related
to the past and present of human beings in caves.
One term that is important in Speleology is Karst.
Karst is an area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced
fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns. “Karst”
is a Slovene/German word used to describe landscapes that are developed
principally by chemical processes rather than physical processes.
Such chemical processes usually consist of the dissolving of limestone
rock by acidic water. Water can become acidic as it moves through
vegetation matter on the Earth’s surface. While caves and
caverns are characteristic features of karst areas, not all karst
areas have caves.
The National Speleological Society
(NSS) Education Committee has a page of links
to science topics that will provide a good starting point for
learning more about Speleology. If you are looking for materials
to teach younger children the U. S. Geological Survey has a site,
Caves, targeted at teachers of K-3 students. This site also
includes a nice map
showing illustrating where various types of caves are found in the
Though not strictly a cave science site, the National Park Service's
Cave National Park Learning Place includes cave related materials
in curricula for teachers (K-8 and a Paleontology curriculum for
grades 1-12), materials for kids, a glossary of cave terms, and
other useful links and information. Materials for kids include fact
sheets on a variety of park related historical and scientific subjects
including PDF publications such as facts sheets on Stephen
Bishop, Cave Guide, Karst
Geology, and Rockfall
in the Cave.
The United Kingdom's Dudley
Caving Club web site has some easy to understand pages on Cave
Development including Cave Origins, Cave Formation and Cave
Decorations that are nicely illustrated with simple drawings and
- The Biology of Caves, Karst, and Groundwater, sponsored by
the Texas Memorial Museum, The University of Texas at Austin and
the Missouri Department of Conservation, includes biospeleology
related materials and links. Another interesting site is Cave-Biology.org,
based in India.
While limestone caves are the most well known form, caves do form
in other circumstances. Dave Bunnell's Virtual
Cave provides photo tours of four types of caves; Solution caves
(the more traditional limestone caves), Lava Tube caves, Sea caves
and Erosional Caves. His descriptions of their unique processes
of formation combined with excellent photography makes this a tour
well worth the time.