Cave and Caving Terminology

Robert Mannell

Listed below are some terms and abbreviations which you might encounter on my cave-related web pages. They are terms with which a non-caver might be unfamiliar or they may be abbreviations or acronyms of a local nature that may require some explanation even to an experienced caver.

  1. ASF

    The Australian Speleological Federation (ASF) is the peak caving or speleological body in Australia. Numerous clubs are affiliated with the ASF across Australia. The ASF runs a biennial speleological and caving conference, has arranged insurance cover for members of its affiliated societies, develops standards of caving practice with respect to both caving safety and cave conservation (including "minimal-impact caving"), The ASF also advises government and cave management bodies on all aspects of caves and caving. The ASF's Code of Ethics" best summarises the ASF's attidude on various topics of relevance to caves and caving.

  2. Bowditch Adjustment

    A closed traverse is where the beginning and end of a survey traverse have been joined by a looping survey path. This is not always possible in caves with a single entrance but is relatively straightforward for caves with two or more entrances (particularly entrances at different ends of the cave). When a survey loop is closed it is often found that the beginning and end of the traverse don't meet (on paper). The extent to which a closed traverse fails to meet is an indication of survey error. Such error can be removed by distributing the error amonst the individual survey legs in proportion to the length of each of those legs. Bowditch adjustment is a method for the proportional distribution of survey errors for a closed loop survey.

  3. Cave Map Symbols

    If you are interested in examining current cave survey standards as approved by the ASF then have a look at the ASF Cave Survey Standards. For more information on the meaning of cave survey symbols, have a look at the appendix of the above document entitled Cave Map Symbols. Please note that the symbols used in my Nangwarry Map do not necessarily conform to that standard as the survey was completed before the ASF survey standards were published in their present form.

  4. Clinometer

    A clinometer is a device used in cave surveying to determine the vertical elevation, as an angle, of a point being surveyed, relative to the current position of the surveyor. A clinometer measures the inclination of a passage.

  5. CRG

    The British Cave Research Group (CRG) cave survey standards were widely used in Australia before the publication of the ASF "Cave Survey and Map Standards" in 1978. The earlier (1962) ASF Cave Survey Standard and the CRG standards were very similar. If you are interested in details of current survey grade standards, then look at the document "ASF Survey Grades". Note that the CRG 6 standard is very similar to ASF Survey Grade 5.

  6. Digging

    Digging refers to exploration by digging away loose dirt and rock that is believed to be blocking access to a potential undiscovered cave passage. Digging should only be carried out if you know what you are doing and have the appropriate permission from the cave manager. You should have a clearly argued rationale behind your proposal to dig in a cave area. Such a proposal should be supported by clear geomorphological and survey evidence for the potential of the dig. Cave conservation issues must also be clearly and carefully addressed. In the absence of such clear arguments and appropriate permission DON'T EVER DIG IN A CAVE OR CAVE AREA. Excavations in caves is dealt with in sections 2.7 and 3.3 of the ASF Code of Ethics".

  7. Elevation Map

    Look at the ASF "Cave Survey and Map Standards" section on "Cave Mapping Terminology" for a definition of an "elevation" map. Briefly, however, an elevation map is a view of the cave from the side.

  8. Inclination

    Inclination refers to a sloping passage and very often to the angle of the slope. A downward slope is indicated by a negative angle and an upward slope is indicated by a positive angle. A downward slope is often referred to as a declination. An angle of zero degrees indicates a perfectly level passage.

  9. Karst

    "Karst" is very often used to refer to geological and geographical aspects of limestone terrain. A more complete definition is:-

    "Karst signifies terrain with distinctive characteristics of relief and drainage arising primarily from a higher degree of rock solubility in natural waters than is found elsewhere. The word is also used adjectivally to refer to rock, water, streams, caves and other features making up such landscape."

    J.N.Jennings, Karst, ANU Press, 1971, p1

  10. Labyrinth

    Labyrinth was the newsletter of NSWITSS and commenced publication in the summer of 1973, with me as the foundation editor. I haven't kept track of the publication, but assume that it is still the newsletter of UTS3

  11. Lead

    A "lead" (pronounced "leed") is a passage or some other feature in a cave that has been discovered during a previous visit that has not yet been explored. A cave feature is considered a "lead" if it is thought that its exploration might result in the discovery of further cave passage.

  12. MUCG

    MUCG is an acronym for the Macquarie University Caving Group which has been incorporated into the Macquarie University Adventure Sports Club


    "NSWITSS" is an acronym for the New South Wales Institute of Technology Spelological Society. When the "NSW Institute of Technology" became the "University of Technology, Sydney" in the late 1980's the society changed its name to the "University of Technology, Sydney Speleological Society" and is usually referred to in print by its acronym UTS3

  14. Plan Map

    Look at the ASF "Cave Survey and Map Standards" section on "Cave Mapping Terminology" for a definition of a "plan" map. Briefly, however, a plan map is a view of a cave from above.

  15. Pushing

    "Pushing" refers to exploration of known, and usually potentialy difficult, leads in a cave. For example, to talk about "pushing a squeeze" means to attempt to move through a known tight squeeze to see what is on the other side.

  16. Spar

    "Spar" is the newsletter of the University of New South Wales Speleological Society (UNSWSS).

  17. Speleology

    Speleology is the science of caves. Cave science deals particularly with the geology, geomorphology and biology of caves, but the actual range of topics is very broad and can include cave chemistry and cave climate, to name two further examples. Sometimes included in the science of speleology is cave surveying, but many see this as a non-scientific ancilliary activity that is nevertheless extremely important to proper scientific investigation of caves.

  18. Squeeze

    A "squeeze" is a tight (often very tight or even impenetrable) passage in a cave.

  19. UNSWSS

    "UNSWSS" is an acronym for the (now defunct) University of New South Wales Spelological Society.

  20. UTS3

    "UTS3" is an acronym for the " University of Technology, Sydney Speleological Society".

  21. Weta

    "Weta" is a term used in Australia and New Zealand to refer to cavernicolous (cave dwelling) species of insects of the order Orthoptera, sub-order Gryllacridoidea. Australian and New Zealand cavernicolous Orthoptera belong to the family Rhaphidophoridae. These insects are related to the crickets and locusts (which belong to different Orthoptera sub-orders) and are often referred to by cavers as "cave crickets". These animals are troglophiles (animals which like to live in caves) which occasionally leave their cave at night. (For further information see: A. Vandel, Biospeleology: The Biology of Cavernicolous Animals, Pergamon, 1965 and see especially pp 177-182.)

You may also wish to visit the ASF Terminology Page.