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Cavers using laser rangefinders to survey a cave. (Photo: James Rice)

Cave Mapping and Research

Caves are invaluable scientific resources, containing unique geology, biology, mineralogy, and even significant archaeologic finds. Cave mapping and research helps cavers and scientists alike to understand caves, their relationship to the surrounding environs, and the significance of what is found within them.

Each year members of the Southern California Grotto participate in a variety of mapping and research projects, both within the United States and around the world.

Southern California Grotto members have provided the needed skills and expertise to succesfully complete research initiatives, and assist cave scientists and managers in ongoing science programs. Participation in caving research or mapping projects often requires experience with the type of cave to be studied, familiarity with standard research and data collection methods, as well as caving skills and patience. The Southern California Grotto provides opportunities for members to learn and acquire the needed skills, and opportunities to participate in a variety of ongoing projects.

Cave Surveying

Cave surveying is the process of measuring and documenting a cave so that an accurate map of the cave and its features can be created. Accurate cave surveys are essential for recording and documenting what is found within the cave, as well as establishing its relationship to features found on the surface.

Cave surveying is usually done by a team of cavers working together, each performing a specific function. Measurements are taken using a compass, clinometer, and measuring tape or laser rangefinder. These are used to record the passage dimensions, with distances and bearings from one survey station to another in the cave recorded in a notebook, along with passage dimensions at each survey station. The sketcher's job is to record all the information accurately, and to add additional passage details in the survey notebook.

A cave survey notebook is used to record measurements and sketch passage detail.

Along with the survey notes, cave inventories may be conducted to record observed biologic or geologic features as the survey party moves through the cave. Photo documentation of significant features may also be part of the team's activities.

Once the data is collected it's entered into a cave survey program where it can be managed, corrected if necessary, and plotted. The final phase uses the sketches from the cave survey book along with the scaled plots of the survey to develop the final map of the cave, usually using drawing programs like Illustrator, Corel Draw, Xara Xtreme, or others.

Often times cave survey data is incorporated into Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to create maps showing the cave's relationship to other features, create advanced visualizations, and perform analytic and modeling tasks that yield new insights.

Cave Science

Southern California Grotto members have participated in a diverse array of projects that have helped advance the scientific understanding of caves. In many of these projects, Southern California Grotto members have provided the core base of help and expertise without which these investigations would not be successful. In other cases members have been the principal investigators, leading the scientific research effort.

Dr. Geoffrey Boxshall collecting copepods for further study in a Bermuda cave. (Photo: Bern Szukalski)

The Southern California Grotto participates in and encourages a variety of mapping and research activities, including educational programs and assisting with cave management. Southern California Grotto members have contributed countless hours of volunteer time and labor to learn more about these invaluable resources.