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(spēlēŏl`əjē), systematic exploration of cavescave,
a cavity in the earth's surface usually large enough for a person to enter. Caves may be formed by the chemical and mechanical action of a stream upon soluble or soft rock, of rainwater seeping through soluble rock to the groundwater level, or of waves dashed against a
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, popularly called spelunking. It includes the measuring and mapping of caves and reporting on the flora and fauna found in them. One application of speleology is the tracing of the movement of underground waters to prevent water pollution.


See R. Pinney, The Complete Book of Cave Exploration (1962); D. R. McClurg, The Amateur's Guide to Caves and Caving (1973); W. R. Halliday, American Caves and Caving (1974); R. D. Ford, ed., The Science of Speleology (1976).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the scientific study of caves. Speleologists study the origin, morphology, microclimate, waters, and plant life of caves, as well as modern and ancient cave fauna, remnants of Stone Age material culture, cave drawings, sculptural representations, and modern-day use. The science of speleology first developed in the second half of the 19th century; its beginnings are associated with the French explorer E.-A. Martel and the Austrian scientists A. Schmidl, F. Kraus, A. Grund, and W. Knebel.

Because most large caves are formed through the solution of rock by water and are related to karst phenomena, speleology is closely associated with karstology. The science also studies caves that form as a result of weathering, deflation, abrasion, undermining, the action of tectonic forces, the flow and cooling of lava, the melting of ice (glacier caves), and the deposition of travertine. Artificial caves cut into rock by man are also studied. Since speleology studies all of the components of subterranean topography, the science is closely linked with geology, mineralogy, geomorphology, hydrogeology, hydrology, meteorology, climatology, botany, physical geography, zoology, paleontology, archaeology, and history.

Spelunkers, persons who explore and study caves as a hobby, play a large role in cave exploration. As hobbyists, they purchase the special equipment needed, and their skills enable them to make difficult descents and to overcome water barriers. Many countries have speleological and spelunking societies, groups, and clubs, which form national associations. In the USSR research in speleology is conducted at the Perm’ All-Union Institute of Karstology and Speleology, the Ufa Institute of Karstology and Speleology, the Speleological Base in Kungur (Urals), the Karstology and Speleology Commision of the Geographic Society of the USSR in Leningrad, and the Speleological Council of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the Georgian SSR in Tbilisi. There are numerous spelunking associations, whose activities are coordinated by a central spelunking section of the Central Council on Tourism and Excursions of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions in Moscow. The first congress of the International Speleological Union was held in 1953; the organization’s charter was adopted in 1965 in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, at the union’s fourth congress.


Gvozdetskii, N. A. Problemy izucheniia karsta i praktika. Moscow, 1972.
Maksimovich, G. A. Osnovy karstovedeniia, vol. 1. Perm’, 1963.
Iliukhin, V., and V. Dublianskii. Puteshestviia pod zemlei. Moscow, 1968.
Peshchery (collection), issues 1(2)–15. Perm’, 1961–74.
Peshchery Gruzii, issues 1–5. Tbilisi, 1963–73.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The study and exploration of caves.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


, spelaeology
1. the scientific study of caves, esp in respect of their geological formation, flora and fauna, etc.
2. the sport or pastime of exploring caves
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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Scientists who study this fascinating underground world, and the organisms that live there, are called speleologists (spee-lee-ahl-ehjests) after the study of caves - speleology. Enthusiasts who enjoy exploring and mapping caves as a hobby are called spelunkers.