Madre de Dios Speleo 2008


The aims of the trip have arisen out of the interests of the expedition members and their collective desire to participate in an adventure in this remarkable wilderness area, and to ensure that work is undertaken that will be of benefit to others. The expedition will lead to personal development as those skilled in cave exploration/sailing/science and film making pass on their knowledge to other members with less experience, and all expedition members will benefit from learning to operate as a team to overcome the physical and mental challenges that will arise as we work in this harsh and remote area. But in addition to these personal benefits we all feel strongly that we want accomplish objectives with wider value.

Cave exploration will be undertaken in a methodical way ensuring that we create a dataset comprising an accurate location, survey and photographic record of caves which will be available to aid future cave exploration or scientific expeditions to the area. The team includes people with many years’ experience of cave exploration to ensure that these tasks are performed in such a way that the information will be of benefit to future expeditions and scientists. Cave exploration is also fundamental to achieving the aim of obtaining speleothem samples for climate studies.

Understanding past changes in climate enables scientists to predict future changes, and speleothems are now recognised as an important means of reconstructing past climates. Because Madre de Dios is the most southerly known karst area where spleothems grow, samples from here will provide the closest climate record to Antarctica where it is thought changes in climate are triggered. Chris Day has been working on speleothems at Oxford University and has experience of field sampling and laboratory analysis. There will be close collaboration with other climate specialists, particularly American and French scientists. The results will be disseminated to both a general and a scientific audience. Expedition members will be involved in writing journalistic style adventure articles (e.g. for caving magazines/newspapers) and giving presentations (e.g. at the BCRA caving conference and at university clubs) which will include the scientific aspects of the expedition. The data will also be used for scientific presentations (e.g. BCRA cave science symposium) and will be published in peer reviewed scientific journals.

There are very few true wilderness areas in the world: places which exist in a pristine state where there is no sign of change as a consequence of human activity. Caves are one of the last true wildernesses. The paradox of exploration is that it teaches humans the value of what is natural, yet is the first step in altering a pristine environment, and has historically often lead to exploitation and development. We hope that one aspect of the film-making and post expedition reporting and presentations will be to provoke discussion and reflection about the issue of wilderness and remoteness conservation in the wider community. Ben, Tim, and Lou have all been actively involved in cave conservation in the UK, and Ben has written articles on the importance of wilderness conservation.