What types of caves exist that are explored by astronauts in CAVES? Find out in the last lecture of Karst for astronauts.
CAVES 2013 photos
More about CAVES
What types of caves exist that are explored by astronauts in CAVES? Find out in the last lecture of Karst for astronauts.
Part four of our guide to caves for astronauts focuses on the Supramonte caves in Sardinia, Italy.
Jo de Waele continues his lecture on Karst and how caves are formed.
How do caves form by the action of water? What does the shape of a cave tell us about its formation? What are the main prerequisites for a cave to form? What are the three phases of speleogenesis (cave formation)? How long does it take to form a cave? Is a cave formed by dissolution or erosion?
Not many people in the world understand the importance of karst, or even know what karst is. ‘Karst’ does not sound particularly inviting, and it could be confused with a disease, a curse, or other bad things. In reality karst is the name of a region, between Slovenia and Northeast Italy, where rock dissolution has created a wide set of beautiful surfaces and subsurface landforms, most important of all are the caves.
The word 'caves' is more commonly known but it often evokes fear and danger. Caves are often thought to be dark (and up to here people guess right), with bad air (only when exhausted cavers pass by does it sometimes get smelly) as well as dangerous, inhabited by evil spirits and dragons, home to devils, not to mention bloodsucking vampires with terrible diseases. Poor caves, and poor bats that live in them.
Caves are wonderful places, where awesome mineral formations – stalactites and stalagmites – render speechless. Bats are lovely creatures that eat insects or fruit, a fundamental part in the biological cycle of plants and animals, including humans. Without bats we would be surrounded by clouds of mosquitos and moths!
What do astronauts think about karst and caves? Who knows, although many people may have visited a tourist cave, the formation of underground spaces and surrounding landscapes often remain a mystery including to astronauts, despite it being likely that caves will be found on other planets, and could be used as shelters for extra-terrestrial expeditions.
Since ESA’s CAVES requires astronauts to explore, map and run scientific experiments in a cave, I designed a lecture on karst that gives a quick but easy overview of the phenomena and the environment. Not all astronauts are scientists and time constraints required that I prepare a 60-minute lecture to give the background information needed to perform exploratory and scientific activities in caves.
From today we present five videos on karst, each of around 10-15 minutes, releasing one each day. The lessons cover the karst processes, the resulting surface morphologies, the genesis of caves, cave morphologies, and the caves and karst of Supramonte, in Sardinia, Italy.
Jo De Waele
This year the ESA CAVES team was invited to celebrate a magical Halloween at the Casola 2013 Underground event.
Each year, on the days that we celebrate all saints and the dead (not Halloween really, as Halloween is not a very Italian tradition), Italian speleologists meet to celebrate those who live underground and the underground world: darkness, friendship, exploration, endurance and discovery.
This year the International Meeting of Speleologists (which is held mainly in Italian, but with many speleologists from around the world) was held in Casola Valsenio, a small town of 2000 inhabitants in the beautiful hills of Emilia Romagna. Casola was literally but peacefully invaded by a happy crowd of 2500 speleologists.
The event involved a few days of presentations, round tables, videos and 3D projections, exhibitions, guided tours, school labs, book presentations, cultural events, music and poetry... you name it.
In the midst of it all ESA CAVES gave a presentation which was made unforgettable by the announcement of the birth of Paolo Nespoli’s son. Later during speleonight a videoconference was organised with Paolo himself and NASA astronauts Jack Fisher and Mike Barratt.
It’s hard to describe the magic of Casola, a city that has officially been named Speleolopolis, and which for a few days has two mayors: Nicola Iseppi, mayor of Casola Valsenio and Biagio, mayor of Speleopolis.
Considering that ESA CAVES is about effective and safe teamwork, I can only applaud the organising team, led by Stefano Olivucci, for being on top of everything and having the spirit, professionalism and flexibility to handle surprises that came along and gracefully inject them into the programme.
It has been a pleasure to entertain kids with astronaut tales, to teach them about space oddities and the analogies of exploring underground and to listen to the stories of true explorers, their struggles and their achievements.
Thank you Casola, you kept your word, and made the myth come true!
P.S. I would like to add a short text sent from Max, an organiser of many key events at Casola. It is in Italian but translating Max’s texts are an impossible feat. In any case, you probably needed to be there to get the spirit of his words. Enjoy!
In un luogo definito Speleopolis tutto può accadere. Eppure, sentire chiedere a una classe di bambini "chi è stato nello spazio?" va certamente oltre. E va oltre anche l'essere rimproverati perché "il Teatro Senio e' troppo piccolo per gli astronauti"...
Tutta Casola 2013 Underground è andata oltre. Gli astronauti che si allenano in grotta, le ghiacciaie che diventano location per mostrare stupende immagini d'aragonite, Diemberger che è l'unico vivente con due ottomila per primo. La narrativa per ragazzi e gli spot per la speleologia che si fanno contest con decine di autori e opere, le grotte turisticizzate, le anticipazioni del 2015. Si potevano percorrere pochi metri e attraversare orizzonti esplorativi, andare dall'ipogeo alle vette. Ascoltare parole e musica su Pollok, andare alla presentazione di un nuovo testo di Natalino Russo, fermarsi a ballare, Speleonotte o Speleobar. Presentazioni tante. Mostre tante e tante le associazioni. Materiali e discussioni sui materiali. 4000 tra speleologi e abitanti di Casola Valsenio. Un murale davanti al bagno pubblico del Parco Pertini. Viaggi nella Terra, sulla Terra e verso lo Spazio. Sogni e incontri. Grazie a ESA CAVES per essere stata presente nella Speleopolis emersa per alcuni giorni e pronta a rimanere nei ricordi.
Massimo (max) Goldoni
I started caving in 1998 without thinking that from that moment my life would change in a radical way. Since then I have enjoyed great explorations of underground Sardinian rivers, incredible discoveries abroad, participating in ESA’s CAVES side by side with astronauts and developed an overall passion for caves and nature. Caving has led me to live very intense experiences far from every-day life and meet a wide variety of people. Caves are not just a documentation exercise or an adventure but a way to meet new people and establish friendships.
Sometimes people on an expedition already know each other but most of the time they are strangers. You might have spoke over the phone or via e-mail but often you meet for the first time when you shake hands at the airport. It is funny and I am often curious to know who I will be sharing a tent with or with whom you will conduct a survey. Sometimes the collaboration goes better than with others. New companions are like uncharted territory, they are to be discovered. The affinity that grows with expedition members can decide the outcome of an expedition, the greater the spirit of adaptation, cooperation and understanding, the greater chance of achieving results and that is why when you share such an intense and exciting experience genuine friendships grow that neither time nor distance can divide.
Sharing the discovery of a new gallery, being brave when you try to find your way out of a cave, shaking from the cold, sharing the little food left over when you are hungry, chatting to each other during the long ascents back outside and eating with friends around the fire afterwards binds you strongly to your companions.
ESA’s CAVES manages to concentrate all that I have experienced in fifteen years of caving. When the astronauts arrive it is exciting to see the great expectations for the adventure that is about to begin. You must know how to go in the cave but you must also know how to live together for twenty days in close contact. You have to be willing to learn but also to give, you have to adapt to a frenetic pace, you have to work with people you are not familiar with and you have to communicate with people from other countries in different languages.
Any difficulties are felt more a team that has to live in symbiosis for 24 hours a day during the whole course, so we must have a strong understanding at first glance. We have to be prepared to give our best in the dark because it is important to film or photograph the course. It is not easy to coordinate the lighting and filming at the exact moment you need it without disturbing the astronauts’ activities. I think the secret of the ARXO team is friendship and trust. After the third edition of CAVES we have become a more and more close-knit group. Each year wonderful friendships are born and every year we wait anxiously for the arrival of the astronauts. The course is long and tiring but it is also an opportunity to have fun and joke together. After twenty days, certificate ceremony is fraught with emotion. The astronauts offer compliments but everyone knows the course is finished. Time to pack up and with many nostalgic memories to retell. The time has come to say goodbye to all our friends. A hug and hello to everyone! We will meet again in September for the next edition!
Speleology is a mental sport as well as a technical one. Physical strength is not as important as knowing how to move or when to move. It requires patience, collaboration and organisation. Some people have wonderful gifts, and they need the support of others to put them to use. As a speleologist, you cannot work alone, you need to have multiple talents and be able to switch between different roles.
Of all the ESA outdoor expeditionary training courses, I remember the experience of the Survival training in 2010 as the most enjoyable. I had been the course coordinator and the instructional system designer for that course, and during the course I became a member of the support team. I met Carla during the training. Her boyfriend was a member of the support team, and she volunteered to help with logistic tasks.
Carla joined us again during CAVES 2012, now a full member of the logistics team. She started to support the photo and video team, managing batteries and helping with lights. She is now a member of the ARXO team, and during CAVES 2013 she helped the wonderboys Vitto and Sirio, taking charge of file management, and taking pictures during the preparatory training activities.
Carla has lots of talents. She is organised, reliable and determined. Most of all, she has many skills. We could not run a course like CAVES without all team members being speleologists, but also cooks, photo operators, scientists, technical instructors, drivers, Sherpas, and most of all, extremely motivated people.
Carla is also a member of the La Venta team, and of the ASPROS association. She has joined them in fantastic expeditions in Sardinia and around the world, often documented in Vittorio’s videos and also in fantastic photographic books, for example see here and here.
When we left the Sa Grutta caves this year NASA astronaut Jack Fischer saw Carla with her heavy backpack loaded with laptops Vitto and Sirio use to edit videos. When Jack saw Carla starting to climb a rope carrying the heavy backpack behind her he said: “That is not elegant!”. As Carla started moving upwards, showing no signs of stress or fatigue, with the backpack smoothly following, Jack turned to me and said: “Well, in fact that is elegant indeed!”.
My passion for adventure started when I was young. At the age of two my parents took me on camping trips to the mountains of Sardinia and its beaches that were unknown to tourists – before this type of activity was called ‘adventure sports’.
My interest in cinema started at age 13 when my father gave me a Super 8mm for my birthday and I made my first feature film when I was 14.
Later I studied animated cinema at CAMBRE in Brussels, Belgium, that is where I learnt to be a film director. Many other ‘addons’ formed who I am today: information technology is important, I worked on Amiga computers making animation as early as 1992. I am -involved in a number of open-source or free software projects.
And speleology of course! The field has a number of aspects that I find interesting. Because it is a new area of research many tools or accessories are still under development or simply do not exist yet. One needs to be an engineer and do-it-yourselfer to make or adapt your own material. That is how I invented the Carapasac to protect my equipment. I also made a ‘speleo-camera-crane’ to record movement underground in tight places. I have some more accessories I developed such as a camera protection that fixes to your wrist and so on…
Expeditions are universal factors for success, do not hesitate to leave on your own adventures. Learning new languages not only broadens your horizon but sometime even the sky. Friendship is also very important. Without the bond I have with co-director Vittorio Crobu the films we make would never be as professional as they are in the short time we make them. We baptised our working relationship for extreme working conditions 'Arxo'.
Lastly, a healthy practice of spirituality devoid of religious pitfalls has allowed me to stay happy in my life and I find this in abundance in ESA’s CAVES programme
Filming in a cave is difficult and constrained, physical inconveniences are the least of your worries. Adequate lighting is a major problem, but this year we solved that issue with the latest-generation ultra-powerful LED torches with wonderful results. Equipment problems are annoying. The cameras suffer a lot and we still have not found a camera that is small, takes quality pictures and videos, has all features as well as being robust and waterproof. Each year we improve our equipment not always without a hitch. Changing a configuration can cause problems elsewhere as we are the cameraman, the photographer, the sound engineer, the lighting specialists and the editors. Luckily we do not have to worry about make-up, the caves take care of that on their own.
I am proud to work for ESA’s CAVES and it is a wonderful test of physical, mental and artistic stamina.
Sirio looks like a character from a science-fiction movie, and I sometimes suspect he could be from another planet. He looks like an alien when he crawls around in the dark, appearing suddenly with his bright lights like stars, illuminating the darkest of caves and turning them into a golden scene in a baroque theatre.
He could also be Eta Beta, or Archimede, with his inventions and ingenious constructions. You need to be an Italian caver to appreciate his PettiCasco, his CoraZaino and his PreservaTutto, although this picture to the left can give you an idea.
Sirio is always happy, he has always a smile on his face, and he always has brilliant ideas, which he puts into his videos.
Colleague Vittorio often improvises to catch the moment whereas Sirio is the planner, the director, the storyteller, and the light choreographer. He has an innate sense of humour and a vivid imagination, which he proudly injects into his productions.
Sirio came into the team for the first time in CAVES 2011. With Vitto they make for a fantastic team. Together they have to provide a set of good pictures per day, and a video every two days, which they record during the day and edit in a tent in the cave in the evening. They use a laptop and a set of batteries, which beep in the silence of the campsite late into the night.
CAVES would not so visible in pictures and would only exist in the memory of those who participated if Sirio did not capture the most salient moments with Vitto and package them into short stories. He will film a broken stalagmite as if it was a docking space vehicle, or the concretions of a cave as if it they were a survey from a remote sensing satellite.
If you have missed his CAVES videos so far, here they are:
You may also want to check this one, which last year won the European SpeleoTV Context