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The golden age of cave exploration

The golden age of cave exploration
13 Oct
It is said that British cavers have discovered more caves on this planet than any other nation. To celebrate this fact, the British Caving Association in conjunction with the British Cave Research Association are holding a four-day weekend of talks from leading cave scientists and explorers, at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in London

The event starts with an open lecture evening on Friday 1 December, in which Frank Pearson will look at discoveries in Britain, followed by Dick Willis who will review British successes around the world. Howard Limbert will cover British achievements in Vietnam, including the magnificent Hang Son Dong – probably the largest cave passage so far discovered in the world. To conclude the evening Gina Moseley, one of Britain’s leading young cave scientists, will present an overview of some spectacular scientific discoveries that have been made.

The Friday evening program will be followed by two full days of lectures and films on the Saturday and Sunday starting at 9am and going on to 6pm each day. In addition to the main auditorium, a large screen will continuously show cave related films in the café, several never seen before and organised and presented by possibly the greatest cave film maker of all time Sid Perou.

Monday evening will be an RGS-IBG Fellows event with veteran cave explorer and much acclaimed author Tony Waltham talking about The Golden Age of British Cave Exploration at home and abroad over the last 50 years. Many of the deepest, longest and largest caves ever discovered have been by British explorers. It is estimated that less than ten per cent of caves in the world that are large enough to enter have so far been discovered. Even in Britain, no more than half the possible caves have so far been discovered. New caves are being found all the time right under our feet.

Cave diving

Tony will be followed by Tim Atkinson one of Britain’s most renowned cave scientists. Tim will talk about the fantastic contribution to science British speleologists have made. Fifty years ago, it was inconceivable that from a small piece of stalactite it would be possible to get a very accurate date of when it was formed. Today, if you then look at the air, water and pollen in the sample you can get an idea of what was going on up to 400,000 years ago and with the latest dating technics the cave scientists can go back even further.

The contribution of caves to knowledge on climate change is revolutionary and the procedures are still in their infancy. Fifty years ago, most people thought caves were no more than 10,000 years old, we can now estimate the age of caves that are 600 million years old!

Hazel Barton, another British scientist, joins from California and will complete the evening talking about cave bacteria. Hazel is one of the pioneers who recently realised that caves are full of incredibly interesting bacteria. The stalactites have ancient (sometimes even still living) bacteria trapped inside them. These can be dated and studied showing what bacteria was around back then and how they have changed up to the modern day.

Often the strange growth of many types of stalactites and stalagmites are modified and controlled by bacteria producing weird effects that were previously very difficult to explain. Indeed, the very formation of the caves themselves is highly dependent on bacteria. Hazel’s day job is to look for life on Mars for NASA, and she insists that caves in their present form wouldn’t exist without bacteria.

Andy Eavis will chair the evening and introduce the speakers. Andy has lead over 40 caving expeditions all over the world, particularly to the Far East and China. He will bring his own additions to this ‘Golden Age of Cave Exploration and Cave Science’.

These events are aimed at the public, and the café bar will be open all day. Tickets will be available on the door or in advance on Eventbrite. Tickets for Friday's lectures cost £10, and £5 for Saturday and £5 Sunday.

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