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Cave Related Sciences

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.
  • Image: bat flyingBiospeleology - 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 biology.
  • 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, Exploring 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 United States.

Though not strictly a cave science site, the National Park Service's Mammoth 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 photos.

Biospeleology - 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.

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  Copyright 2002-2004, Bob Robins
  Last Updated: February 25, 2007