September 5, 2012
Spelunkers Return From Record-breaking Cave Expedition
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
An international team of spelunkers from nine nations including Israel, Spain, Russia, Britain and Lebanon, has just returned from exploring the deepest cave in the world.Krubera-Voronya, in Abkhazia, Russia near the Black Sea, is considered the "Everest of the caves" because of its depth.
Krubera-Voronya is the deepest known cave on Earth, achieving that designation in 2001 when an expedition reached a depth of 1,710 meters, exceeding the depth of the previous deepest cave, Lamprechtsofen, by 80 meters. Krubera remains the only known cave on Earth deeper than 2,000 meters.
Cavers Boaz Langford, Leonid Fagin, Vladimir Buslov and Yuval Elmaliach from the cave research unit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem went on the exploration organized by the Ukranian Speleological Association in an attempt to break the world's record for cave exploration. The record was achieved when a Ukrainian researcher reached a depth of 2,196 meters beneath the Earth's surface, five meters deeper than the previous record.
The cave team followed pathways determined by the water flowing through the cave, using ropes and sometimes diving through frigid water (2 degrees Celsius) in order to reach the deepest sections of the cave.
There were unexpected developments during the exploration. Cavers were subjected to an underground flash flood that forced them to remain isolated from any contacts for about 30 hours. In an adjacent cave, an explorer from another team died during a complex evacuation.
The Israeli explorers worked at depths from 500 to 2,080 meters below the Earth's surface, breaking a number of records for Israeli cave exploration. 2,080 meters is the deepest any Israeli spelunker has ever achieved, as well as the deepest point ever reached in the world without having to resort to technical diving techniques. Leonid Fagin set another record. He was in the cave for 24 consecutive days, the longest any Israeli has ever spent in one underground exploration.
Langford, who does measurement and mapping of caves for the Hebrew University cave research unit, commented: "The preparations for expeditions such as this are extensive and involve a lot of mental preparation. I have tried for some years to join this exploration effort, and I am glad I finally succeeded. One of the exciting findings of our work there was to discover a new species of transparent fish living in water of two degrees and at a depth of two thousand meters."
"Cave exploration is an area in which people have to work together, since descending into the depths requires a great deal of teamwork, especially in a cave as complex as Krubera," said Prof. Frumkin, who heads Hebrew University's cave research unit. "The basic purpose of cave exploration is first and foremost to understand the cave, its underground water system, its geological development and the ancient climate which existed on earth. One of the interesting questions at Krubera-Voronya was how the cave reached such a great depth, and the assumption is that this is connected with lower levels of the Black Sea in the past."
Frumkin also said that beyond such scientific importance, many cave explorers are engaged in this work because of the personal challenge and the adventurous aspect of the work.
"One has to remember that caves are the last place in the world where it is still possible to be the first human to tread on unexplored territory," he said.