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Monday, June 03, 2013

Silver Glen Springs Cave Diving Team

Exploration for Preservation

Last explored 20 years ago, Silver Glen Springs has long been recognized as one of the most unique places in Florida. Natural geologic erosion, powerful hydrological flow, and ever-evolving troglobitic life fills the submerged passages of one of Florida’s most precious resources.
Under the direction of original Silver Glen explorer/cartographer Eric Hutcheson, the two-year project will allow members of the core exploration team to use their expertise to explore, map, photograph, and document the site using state-of-the-art equipment and technological processes never before used in caves. The findings of this expedition will lead to a better understanding of this site, providing knowledge which is critical to the management, conservation, and promotion of public interest in our natural springs.
 

Core Exploration Team Members

Eric Hutcheson – Creative Director - eric@erichutcheson.com
David Ulloa – Valeo Films Inc : Special Projects Producer
Bill Foote – Ocala Dive Center : Breathing Gas Management
Bill Belleville – Equinox Documentaries : Producer
Jim Killion – JK Productions : Cinematographer
Tom Morris – Biological Consultant
Kristi Bernot - Staff Photographer


   



         
 

Project Outline

Observations

Our first agenda is to observe any changes that may have taken place in the past 20 years. Geologic erosion, Biological life, Hydrologic flow, along with the inspection of all our original survey data base, guide lines and survey stations.

Mapping and illustrations

This project will continue to collect detailed survey data of the entire spring system to produce a more accurate detailed full color dimensional map and illustration of Silver Glen Springs. After 20 years our craft, skills and equipment have greatly improved and Silver Glen is the perfect example to showcase an accurate picture of the Floridian Aquifer.

Troglobidic Life

Silver Glen is home to its own species of cave dwelling crayfish. Discovered during our original project in the early 90s this was the last new species of cave cray fish to be found in Florida. The entrance area was abundant with fresh water eels and macrobrachium (a very large, fresh water shrimp). We will document all life forms and the changes that have occurred over the decades.

Photography and Video

A new series of photographs will be produced of the entire cave and underwater area including the large room with Aussum Pit. HD video of the cave and all of our findings will be filmed to help the general public understand the importance of preservation of the Floridian Aquifer and specifically Silver Glen Springs.


The End Result

All of our work and productions will be presented to the US Forest Service in an attempt to continue the preservation of the springs and to aid  in the park development with interpretive displays to educate the visitor and highlight Silver Glen as one of the most unique places in Florida.


Eric Hutcheson - Original explorer/ cartographer of Silver Glen Springs
eric@erichutcheson.com

Deep, Dark and Dangerous

The nation’s deepest known underwater cave system lures expert divers.

By Rae Nadler-Olenick
Positioned on the choppy surface of Lake Amistad, at 29° 32.21’ N, 101° 15.18’ W in Val Verde County, a simple white and blue buoy marks the location of a geographic feature few will ever see. The mouth to Goodenough Spring lies some 165 feet below the reservoir’s normal pool level, beckoning the way to an environment so harsh that most divers — even the highly experienced — turn back.
But not all. For the past decade, the seasoned diver-explorers of the Goodenough Springs Exploration Project (GSEP) have been plumbing its secrets, gradually advancing farther and deeper into the United States’ deepest known underwater cave system.
The system, which emerges from the Salmon Peak layer of Southwest Texas’ Edwardian limestone, possesses both faulting and erosion channel features.
“It’s a unique geology,” says Chuck Noe, the project’s director.
Before Amistad Dam’s 1968 completion submerged 65,000 acres of desert beneath waters from the Rio Grande, Pecos and Devils rivers, Goodenough Spring flowed at the surface, a welcome resource in an arid land. Situated 12 miles northwest of Del Rio, it discharged an impressive 100-200 cubic feet of water per second under artesian pressure, making it Texas’ third-largest spring.
With the sprawling new lake, the spring became obscured, and the lake became a recreational destination, drawing boaters, fishermen and sport divers. In the earliest years, most nonprofessional divers limited themselves to depths of 130 feet because of decompression and nitrogen intoxication issues, so the spring remained largely out of reach.
During the 1980s, the scuba community turned increasing attention to deeper, more complex dives, adopting advanced techniques previously reserved for elite Navy and commercial divers. In particular, the use of gas mixtures like trimix (oxygen, helium, nitrogen) allowed them to dive deeper and stay longer. By the early 1990s, divers trained in mixed-gas use — known as technical divers — had routine access to the cave.
R.D. Milhollin of Dallas was among those who explored the area during that period. He and his companions — Ise Kalsi, Terry Scoggins and, later, Robert Laird — reached the cave’s main passage, where a torrent of fast-rushing water greeted them. They set out to conquer a 90-foot-long section of tunnel, known today as the Fire Hydrant, using mountain climbing gear. Wedging chocks tightly into available cracks in the ceiling, they tied climbing rope to them and climbed horizontally, upside down, against the fierce flow.
That wasn’t their only approach: On one memorable occasion, Milhollin and Laird proceeded through a combination of maneuvers that included successively tossing and anchoring a length of heavy pig iron pipe, a few inches at a time, along the gravel floor.
Their efforts ended at a point, 200 feet deep under normal pool conditions, where piled-up gravel blocked most of the tunnel, preventing further access. Milhollin’s team ceased its explorations around 1995.
Laird continued to visit the cave, and in 2000 he stepped up his involvement when a group of Houston-area divers asked him to help them locate the spring. His interest rekindled, he joined with them in launching GSEP to explore the site systematically.
Laird calls Goodenough “probably the most difficult, dangerous dive there is.”
The spring’s challenges are in fact monumental. In addition to its great depth, enormous flow and the often-poor visibility of the surrounding lake water, a steep gradient between the spring’s year-round 81-degree water and ambient lake temperatures as low as 55 to 60 degrees in winter severely limits cold weather diving activity.
GSEP’s 11-year history unfolds as one of tireless work and steady, gradual progress punctuated by dramatic breakthroughs. The “Goodenoughers” devoted earlier efforts to such basics as the installation and maintenance of sturdy chain moorings and tough, knotted nylon guide lines in the previously explored areas. Only in 2002 did they make their first coordinated effort to get past the gravel barrier by digging gravel away to enlarge the opening. Their excavations eventually yielded a hole barely large enough for Noe, the smallest team member, to squeeze through into the unknown.
“My heart was pounding,” admits Noe, who returned quickly after installing a steel piton in a wall crack to extend the guide line to the other side. On a second brief trip the next day — still alone — he glimpsed a steeply dropping passage: one hint (along with the warm temperature) of the cave’s great depth potential. But it would be more than a year before anyone followed him beyond the gravel dam.
In the summer of 2003, nature intervened to accomplish what long hours of laborious excavation had not. Waters stirred by Hurricane Claudette’s landfall on the South Texas coast, roaring through the spring system, blew most of the gravel away.
Since then, GSEP divers have explored deeper into the cave in the course of several trips each year between May and October, ultimately achieving a depth of 515 feet.
They added a scientific dimension to their mission in 2005 when water scientist Ray Kamps, then a Texas State University doctoral student, sought their assistance. Kamps, who was conducting federally sanctioned limnology research at Lake Amistad, needed divers to deploy instrumentation to measure water temperature and salinity at the spring.
It proved a fortuitous collaboration. Exploration and science have worked hand in hand ever since. GSEP has expanded its research role, taking on projects in connection with the Texas Water Development Board and the U.S. Geological Service, and publishing an article on the chemistry of Good­enough Spring in the peer-reviewed Hydrogeology Journal.
They also pay for their own independent studies, like their ongoing effort to delineate the spring’s catchment area. Kamps, who soon joined GSEP as its scientist of record, believes the catchment is a large semicircle around the spring.
“That’s the first assumption,” he says. “The question is: How big is the circle? Is it skewed? If it rains over there, does the water end up in Goodenough Spring here?”
To learn the answer, he analyzes the data he collects for spikes in three parameters — pressure, salinity and temperature — that occur with rainfall. “They travel at different rates through the aquifer,” he explains. “If they all come at the same time, water fell close to the spring.”
Time differences between the spikes increase with distance from the rain source. He then matches his readings to radar weather maps in an effort to identify which thundershower produced a given spike or spikes. Though the work is far from complete even after four years, results to date suggest that the catchment area is a wide swath of plateau land located on both sides of the border: north, sweeping west and ending south of the spring, with the biggest response from the west.
Exploration — safely advancing members’ individual goals in a context of close teamwork — remains the heart of the enterprise. In 2009, GSEP received the National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section’s coveted Exploration Award for achieving the deepest cave dive ever documented in the United States.
“When we started this project, we didn’t even know that the cave went deeper than 100 feet. We just wanted to explore it,” says Noe, who, with extensive logistics support from six other Goodenoughers, descended to a record-breaking depth of 515 feet.
Staging for each trip is a highly complex production. A typical expedition finds GSEP’s two dive boats fully loaded with several tons of equipment: tanks of varying gas mixtures, wetsuits and other personal gear, maintenance supplies and scientific instruments — plus the seven or eight divers (about half the current active membership) themselves. Depending on need, they might also haul such specialty items as a wetsuit-heating unit Noe himself constructed for dives deeper than 250 feet at chilly temperatures.
The redundancy of tanks and the heating equipment are necessary for decompression issues. During a typical deep dive, nitrogen dissolves in the bloodstream — nitrogen that must be released very gradually on ascent if the diver is to avoid a life-threatening pressure illness known as the bends.
Ascending divers make multiple progressively longer decompression stops at progressively shallower levels. They also change tanks twice along the way (to a 50-50 oxygen/nitrogen mix at 70 feet and pure oxygen at 20 feet), clipping on new gas cylinders that setup crew have previously tethered to the mooring chain in the appropriate spot. The longest decompression stop — sometimes lasting several hours — occurs at the 20-foot level where, in cold weather, hot water pumped through a hose from Noe’s propane-fired Deco Heater on deck makes the wait more comfortable.
When the lake is at normal pool level, a Goodenough Spring dive begins with a 150-foot descent to an amphitheater-like area. Fifteen feet farther down, GSEP’s Grim Reaper sign, installed to warn the unwary away, marks the cave’s entrance: a 6-foot-wide fissure that quickly opens into a round, high-ceilinged room called the Well. To the left, a trip through the formidable, scalloped Fire Hydrant tunnel and past the former gravel restriction reveals a geography of sharp, deep drops and winding switchbacks; of mud and boulders and gravel-filled pit bottoms; and clay walls deeply fluted (possibly from the action of churning gravel during storms). And no end in sight.
Will they push on to 600 feet?
“We’d like to,” says Noe. “It’s just difficult to say when. We can plan for it and talk about it, but until Mother Nature relents and gives us an opportunity, we can’t pick a date.”
Indeed, nature has been merciless since Hurricane Alex ripped the Texas coast in June 2010. GSEP’s expedition in October of that year found guide lines ripped out, scientific instruments damaged or gone and a flow so high that divers were unable to proceed past the Well. Last May’s group encountered conditions nearly as extreme, though they were able to proceed several feet into the Fire Hydrant to set new instruments.
But repair and maintenance, planning and, sometimes, waiting are all part of the game.
The next major push — when it comes — will make use of scooters: neutrally buoyant, battery-powered, propeller-driven propulsion units that can pull divers along at more than 200 feet per minute under ideal conditions. Divers swimming hard at that depth require the mechanical assistance to avoid joint injuries caused by gas buildup in their tissues.
“I’ll leave that to the younger guys,” says Noe, who’s 52.
Should they ever descend 800 feet or deeper, they’ll need to adopt rebreathers — a completely different and highly sophisticated breathing technology that recycles used air. But they don’t think the cave will turn out to be that deep.
Kamps expects it to bottom out at around 700 feet. “The water temperature of Goodenough Spring is a very consistent 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit),” he says. “That’s the temperature of water in the earth at 700 feet. I’d expect it to level off there. It can continue straight for miles, or it could lose its character as a conduit and become diffuse, but it won’t go deeper.”
In any case, the Goodenoughers have plenty to look forward to in the way of future exploration, science and maintenance. Though they also dive at Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, Goodenough Spring remains their first love.
“We’ve sort of made it our project and our life,” Noe says.

Caving and Cave Diving

Caving is the sport  of cave exploring.It is often undertaken for the enjoyment of the sport, the physical exercise, exploration, or physical and biological science expeditions. What takes caving to the extreme is underwater caving, which combines both scuba diving and spelunking (caving). In order to start underwater caving a person must take scuba lessons. Special classes are needed to go cave diving because the underwater cave is a very dangerous place.
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Most underwater caves are formed by natuaral springs. The springs come up from the ground and become the headwaters for rivers or create lakes and ponds. The water from these springs comes at a constant flow rate that can create a strong current. In order to participate in this sport you must be in top physical condition to navigate such a long way underwater and keep your mind clear if danger arises. In underwater caving you can not swim to the surface like in regular scuba diving. In addition to this cave diving is not a sport for those who are claustrophobic or panic in tight spaces because panic while diving can be fatal.  
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The equipment necessary for caving is basic scube diving gear, an extra air tank, and underwater lighting. Ropes are one of the greatest essentials. They are used to guide a person in the underwater darkness. Rope is more commonly used because string can become taunt and break.  
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Extreme cave diving is done in a passageway that has no overhead air pockets and is flooded. If equipment were to malfunction you can't simply return to the surface, you must finish the dive and then come to the surface, which means your are still submerged. This is why a person caving must have control over their senses because the body has a way to dominate reality and convince itself that what it is experiencing is not actual reality, when it perceives any kind of threat. Cave diving is not performed with a direct descent but rather penetration diving. This means that the diver has no space to make a vertical ascent if they have a complication with the dive. The most difficult and dangerous aspect of cave diving is the return to the surface. A cave diver must be prepared to encounter many unknown elements. For example they must keep their wits when everything around them is telling them something different is happening, they must learn the depth of their dive, and the return is quite long and complex. The body has to readjust to breathing air, not mixtures of oxygen and nitrogen. This is why cave diving is so extreme, one wrong step during the dive could mean death-defying consequences.
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LONGEST CAVE DIVE IN CENTRAL BRAZIL

In September 20, 2004, Brazilian cave diver Gilberto Menezes accomplished a
solo penetration of 6,400 meters (21,000 ft) in the upstream sump of
Bananeira cave, state of Bahia in Central Brazil. The dive lasted 11 hours
23 minutes and was stopped in going passage. The Bananeira sump starts 400 m
inside the cave and comprises a narrow passage 3 m wide and 2 m high in
average with silty floor. Although the water is warm (c. 25ºC) visibility is
never more than 3 m being only 1.5 m during the 2004 dives. The underwater
passage is generally shallow in the first 3,500 m (25 m maximum depth)
becoming gradually deeper until a short loop at around 6,000 m penetration
brings the depth to 50 m. The dive was stopped in the ascending portion of
the loop at 20 m depth. In his longest push two Submerge Inc. UV-42 scooters
(specially adapted with 65-amph @ 24-volts NiMH batteries enabling a total
range of about 10,000 m per scooter!) were used. The dive used conventional
(open circuit) apparatus and a total of 33 tanks were either used or were in
place at the sump during the longest dive. Trimix 25/50 was used from the
surface to 25 m depth (up to 5,800 m penetration), Trimix 16/70 was used
from 25 to 50 m in depth (from 5,800 m to 6,400 m penetration). Nitrox 70
was used for decompression from 12 m to 7 m in depth (3,000 m to 1,800 m
penetration) and pure oxygen was used at 6 m depth (1,800 m penetration) and
3 m depth (1,500 m penetration).


 Gilberto Menezes is Brazilian most active cave diving explorer, having now
logged 35 solo dives over 150 m in depth at 4 Brazilian sites, including a
274 m (898 ft) deep dive at the gigantic bell-shaped pit of Lago Azul and a
220 m deep dive at Lagoa Misteriosa. The Bananeira cave project started two
years ago and up to now Gilberto Menezes has logged 43 dives in the sump
totaling over 170 hours of diving time. Diving is restricted to a few months
during the dry season. The water in the Bananeira sump comes from
neighboring Padre cave and it is estimated that at least 1.5 km of sump
remains to be explored until a connection is made. The project will be
resumed in 2005.


Gilberto Menezes would like to thank Rodney Nairne of Submerge Inc. for
supporting the project and making available the extra long-range scooters.
Tom Mount and Jim Lockwood provided training and information on DPV diving
and Dr. Bill Hamilton helped with decompression tables. Thanks is extended
to Augusto Auler for pointing the potential of the site and to local farmer
Nogueira for helping with field work logistics. IBAMA-CECAV provided diving
permits.

THE RACE TO FIND THE WORLD's BIGGEST UNDERWATER CAVES

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The 100-mile-long Sac Actun cave is one of the last unexplored places.

by Konstantin KakaesExplorer Robbie Schmitter prowls an underwater cave.

Image courtesy of Gavin Newman, top left image courtesy of Radek Husak It was the wrong day for Stephen Bogaerts to have for­gotten his wet suit, but forget it he had. What followed this realization was a manic drive back to the diving center, then a hurried leap into the water. The hour-long delay turned out to be fortuitous. His diving partner, Robbie Schmittner, was swimming downstream from a different starting point, carried by a current that Bogaerts would be fighting on his opposite path. Normally the current rages, but on the day in question, January 23, 2007, it was unusually gentle. So Bogaerts reached the rendezvous point a half hour sooner than expected, and Schmittner 20 minutes later. As Schmittner turned the last corner, he saw Bogaerts’s light flickering in the distance. The ethereal glow marked the juncture of two giant caves—Sac Actun and Nohoch Nah Chich. With their discovery of the opening, the divers had proved that the two caves were really one, now called simply Sac Actun. At the time, that made it the largest known underwater cave in the world, with almost a hundred miles of passages charted. Schmittner dropped a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne to the cave floor to mark their arrival at that special juncture in one of the world’s greatest (yet least heralded) natural wonders.
For Schmittner and Bogaerts, the exploration is never done. After they discovered the Sac Actun connection in 2007, another Yucatán team showed that the underwater cave Ox Bel Ha, at 170 kilometers (106 miles), was longer still. But the race for the long­est is not over. Recently Schmittner and Bogaerts were excited to learn that Sac Actun lies within 18 feet of Dos Ojos, another cave system. If they find a connection between the two, the union could again put Sac Actun on top and possibly make it the world’s second-longest cave, underwater or other­wise, depending on how long the connecting passage is. The pair hope to then find a link with Ox Bel Ha. If all those caves are joined, the whole system would rank behind only Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which has almost 600 kilometers (about 370 miles) of passage­ways. At the pace Schmittner and Bogaerts are going, even overtaking Mammoth Cave—thought by many in the caving community to be a ridiculous goal—might be a possibility.
The two explorers, both diving instructors, have spent nearly a decade charting the Yucatán’s vast network of under­water caves, which they enter through portals called cenotes—sinkholes in the limestone that forms the peninsula south of Cancún. In some of the cenotes, the water is so clear that when you look up from the bottom, fish seem to be swimming in the sky. Clear or not, when you reach the bottom of a cenote you find tunnels, often marked by stalactites, stretching out under the earth. Go one way and you encounter caverns so vast that a 747 could fly through; Bogaerts and Schmittner navigate these with torpedo-shaped scooters. Go another way and you might run into passages so narrow that navigating them becomes a process of spelunking more than swimming. As you take in the grandeur—or snake your way through—only the sound of your breathing reminds you that you are out of your element.

Image courtesy of Gavin Newman
Expert scuba divers like Schmittner, originally from a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, and Bogaerts, from Greater London, have learned to control their breathing so they use less than a quarter of the air a novice does. They still take plenty of air with them, though. On this day Schmittner went in with five tanks strapped around his body; Bogaerts, who had to wriggle through some narrow passages, called restrictions, brought three. One of these he stashed in a passage along the way, a second he clipped to his butt, and a third he pushed in front.
When a passage closes in, it is all too easy to agitate the silt on the cave floor below, reducing visibility to nearly zero. Skilled cave divers like Bogaerts and Schmittner move gracefully to maintain visibility going in, but getting out alive is still a technical feat. Maneuvering safely requires deft use of a nylon rope that they tie off every time a cave wall turns. When they are done exploring, they turn around and follow the cord to retrace their way back out. Lose the cord, they know, and they might be lost for good.
Getting a full picture of the cave means painstakingly calculating the water depth and taking a compass bearing at every tie-off, then measuring the distance between each set of points. Along with GPS readings gathered at an entrance, these measurements allow explorers to create detailed cave maps. It is a long process; mapping Sac Actun took Bogaerts and Schmittner five years.
Jim Coke, a diver who was the first to explore Sac Actun in the late 1980s, has created a large and growing library of maps of the Yucatán caves through his Quintana Roo Speleological Survey, which aggregates data gathered by cave divers like Bogaerts and Schmittner. First he translates their data into a series of lines representing distances and angles. Then he adds measurements of the width and curvature of the cave tunnels, finally using specialized computer software to generate beautiful maps of the complex underwater terrain.
“Unless you survey a line, you have not been there, because you don’t know where you are,” Bogaerts says. It is only by constructing a record of what they have seen that cave explorers feel they have seen it at all.
The maps do not just chart the territory; they also help gauge pollution drifting down from human activity on land. An hour and a half south of Cancún, most of the water is still pristine, Schmittner says. But massive development—potentially including a new airport—is planned for the area that Mexican authorities tout as “the Riviera Maya.” Contaminants diffuse much more quickly through water than through limestone, so if the caves are all connected, pollution will spread rapidly. At the moment, sewage from hotels and resorts is generally pumped into deep-injection wells 90 meters (about 300 feet) below ground level, sometimes straight into undersea caves. And solid waste is dumped into unlined pits, where groundwater can carry it into the porous limestone.
Some maps remain under wraps, kept in privately held collections by the explorers themselves because they point the way to archaeological and paleobiological treasures that have been protected by the waters for thousands of years. Explorers of cenotes early in the 20th century found treasure troves of Mayan artifacts in the underwater caverns, but these have now largely been plundered. Still, many human fossils from around 10,000 years ago or more remain. Schmittner describes a human skull he found half-buried in limestone. He left it there, marked only in his memory and private records. He says he and Bogaerts also found two human skeletons; the bones appear to date back about 12,000 years, placing them among the oldest human remains in the Americas. The two divers have discovered mastodons at six sites as well as small horses, giant tapirs, and giant sloths. But the Mexican national archaeology agency has just a single archaeologist trained in cave diving, so it could be many years before science catches up with the finds.
“Everything we do, we pay for out of our own pockets, because we love it,” Bogaerts says. “We’re not trying to do it for anyone except ourselves—just go out in the jungle, find cenotes, jump in, and go exploring.”
Take the Cenote Tour
Haunting in their beauty and largely unexplored, vast networks of under­water caves span the North American continent, from California and Missouri to Florida and the Yucatán. For divers who venture into this alien and sometimes hostile environment, preparation is essential. “Many experts estimate that less than 1 percent of the recreational diving population possesses the knowledge, skills, attitude, and judgment needed to cave dive as safely as possible,” says Johnny Richards, a former attorney who now works full-time as a cave diving instructor in northern Florida and runs the informational Web site CaveDiving.com.
Indeed, more than 430 people have died while cave diving since 1960. The National Speleological Society warns that prospective divers must be well trained and cognizant of all the risks associated with cave diving. “Interviews with the surviving dive buddies suggest that frequently the divers originally planned only to take a quick peek ‘just inside the cave entrance,’” the society reports. “In many instances the divers got into trouble immediately. In other cases, they decided to continue farther into the cave despite their plan and became hopelessly lost.”
If you are still set on exploring these underwater worlds after calculating the risks, you must “first become a certified scuba diver and accumulate open water diving experience. Then seek out a cavern and cave diving course,” the society advises (see “Recommended Resources,” for links to instructors authorized by the National Speleological Society and the National Association for Cave Diving). For the diver with the right preparation and equipment, though, the payoff is entry into a remarkable alternate world.
Where to use your new skills? Although underwater caves are found in many areas of the United States, most tend to be cold, murky, and just plain inhospitable, according to Richards. The initiated generally head to the warmer, clearer caves of north-central Florida and the Yucatán. There are so many splendid caves and tour guides to choose from in these regions that you will have to do some homework to plot your personal trip. While we cannot recommend specific equipment or tour companies, the national and international groups listed below can provide a good start.

Cave Diving Mars Robots


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Scientists are beginning to sketch out plans for NASA’s new Mars rover Curiosity to climb Mount Sharp, but future robots may have a more direct way to access the planet’s history books.
Recent discoveries of “skylights” (pictured here) and lava tubes on the surface of Mars, as well as the moon, are sparking the development of robotic probes that can descend into caves and explore tunnels.
“Geology works in layers, so how many layers can you see? Well, we know there are sinkholes on Mars. Those sinkholes expose potentially hundreds of feet of layers, so if you could lower something down and examine those layers and explore a tunnel underneath, or anything of that sort, the science that can be done with that is just phenomenal,” Jason Derleth, senior technology analyst with NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, told Discovery News.